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Japan court nixes damages suit over same-surname after marriage rule

This Jan. 8, 2019 file photo shows a court sign at the entrance of a building that houses the Tokyo District and High Courts in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A court in Japan rejected Monday a damages suit against the state by a lawyer and his wife who argued that the country's law forcing married couples to use the same surname is unconstitutional.

Hiroki Deguchi, a lawyer who belongs to the Tokyo Bar Association, and his wife had claimed that a Civil Code provision stipulating a single surname for a husband and wife violates "equality under the law" guaranteed by the Constitution and sought 10 yen ($0.09) in compensation.

At the Tokyo District Court, Presiding Judge Yukio Shinada said there have been no "change in the situation" since the Supreme Court decided in December 2015 that the provision was constitutional, although there has been growing debate about whether to allow the use of separate surnames by married couples in Japan.

The plaintiffs initially tried to register their marriage on Aug. 1 last year with their respective surnames in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, but their attempt was rejected and they had to register with the husband's surname, Deguchi, according to their complaint.

The wife has two children from a previous marriage, both of whom use the surname of her former husband in line with the couple's divorce settlement.

The children want to change their family name to their mother's previous surname but have been prevented by the Civil Code provision, the complaint said.

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the provision, saying the use of a single surname by members of the same family is an established practice in Japanese society.

In Japan, it is customary for a wife to take her husband's surname, although the law does not state which of the partners must give up their surname on marriage.

Many countries allow the use of separate surnames by married couples and the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has urged the Japanese government to amend the Civil Code.

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