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Tokyo court rejects compensation claim over ban on different surnames for spouses

A court sign is seen at the location of the Tokyo District Court in the capital's Chiyoda Ward in this file photo taken on Nov. 29, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Tokyo District Court on March 25 dismissed a claim for compensation from four people arguing that forcing Japanese couples to choose one surname upon marriage was unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs, including Yoshihisa Aono, 47, CEO of Tokyo-based software developing company Cybozu Inc., had demanded a total of 2.2 million yen in compensation from the central government over the legal requirement that Japanese couples choose a single surname upon marriage.

It is believed to be the first judicial judgment regarding the surnames of married couples since the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that Article 750 of the Civil Code was constitutional. The article states that "a husband and wife shall adopt the surname of the husband or wife in accordance with that which is decided at the time of marriage."

In the latest case, the plaintiffs did not focus on the Civil Code, but on the Family Register Act. Under the act, in cases of divorce of two Japanese citizens as well as marriage and divorce between a Japanese citizen and a foreign national, those involved are allowed to choose to take separate surnames. In cases of marriage between Japanese nationals, however, there is no such stipulation. The plaintiffs argued that this ran counter to Article 14 of the Constitution, which states that "All of the people are equal under the law," and said the Diet violated the law by failing to act by not adopting legislation allowing separate surnames. This was their basis for seeking damages.

Aono married in 2001 and took the surname of his wife, "Nishibata," but has since continued to work under his old surname. In his lawsuit he says it is a hassle to decide which name to use in contracts, which wastes time on a day-to-day basis.

The Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice worked out a proposal in 1996 to revise the Civil Code and introduce a system under which husbands and wives would be allowed to have separate surnames, but this never happened.

In the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, five of the 15 justices, including all three of the female justices, had given the opinion that the Civil Code stipulation was unconstitutional, and urged the Diet to engage in discussion.

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