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Couples to seek compensation over law prohibiting use of separate surnames after marriage

In this Aug. 1, 2016 file photo, a marriage registration form is seen, with the fourth (4) item, top center, having only two checkbox choices for a couple's surname after marriage: the surname of the husband or that of the wife. (Mainichi)

Four couples are set to file state redress suits over a Civil Code provision under which married couples are not allowed to have separate surnames, claiming that the clause violates the Japanese Constitution, which guarantees equality under law regardless of one's creed as well as freedom of marriage.

A group of attorneys representing the common-law couples living in Tokyo and Hiroshima held a news conference on Feb. 27 announcing that the couples' plans to file the complaints with the Tokyo and Hiroshima district courts, respectively, next month. In addition to the suits against the state demanding 100,000 yen per plaintiff for emotional distress, the group is set to seek, from district family courts, nullification of decisions by municipal governments to reject marriage notifications the couples submitted with separate surnames. The number of plaintiffs could increase by the scheduled date of the filing on March 14.

A plaintiff who appeared at the news conference on Feb. 27 entered into a de facto marriage with her partner in 2001 and later submitted a marriage notification to the local administration with the same surname as her partner so that the child they were expecting would be registered as a child born in lawful wedlock. To take back their respective pre-marriage surnames, the couple divorced as a formality after she gave birth to their child. The couple has since submitted a fresh marriage notification using separate surnames, but it is likely to get rejected.

With regard to trials over the Civil Code provision on surnames after marriage, the same lawyers' group represented another group of couples who filed a lawsuit for the first time in 2011. The Supreme Court in 2015 ruled the provision constitutional, but five out of the 15 top court justices found the single-surname law unconstitutional.

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