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Allowing separate surnames after marriage could increase crime: Japanese politician

The Ehime Prefectural Assembly committee deliberates a petition to adopt a system allowing married couples the option to choose whether or not to keep their premarital surnames, in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on March 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Aoi Hanazawa)

MATSUYAMA -- A petition to adopt a system allowing married couples the option to choose whether or not to keep their premarital surnames was shot down at an Ehime Prefectural Assembly committee here after a conservative assembly member said that adopting such a system could lead to an increase in crime.

The petition was submitted to a regular February meeting of the Ehime Prefectural Assembly, and was deliberated in the assembly's environment, health and welfare committee on March 10. In a vote taken after the aforementioned remark made by Yasuyuki Moritaka, 62, an assembly member from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who opposed the petition, the proposal was voted down.

The petition was submitted by three prefectural assembly members -- one independent, one from the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and one from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) -- after it was introduced by Yoriko Kurushima, chairman of the Aichi Prefectural headquarters of the New Japan Women's Association.

The petition seeks the adoption of a position document that calls for the central government to revise the Civil Code to include the implementation of optional surname selection, arguing that married couples are being forced to unwillingly change their surnames, and face disadvantages and inconveniences from using their premarital names in their daily lives that are different from their legal, post-marriage names.

The petition was deliberated by six people, excluding the committee chair, and failed to be adopted 5-to-1. Before the vote, the JCP's Katsuhiko Tanaka, 52, one of the assembly members who submitted the petition, and the only one to vote in favor of it, sought the other committee members' votes, saying, "This is not meant to dictate separate surnames for married couples by law, but rather to make it optional. So it's unthinkable that this would throw Japanese society as a whole into chaos."

Meanwhile, Moritaka said, "I feel that I see a lot of cases on the news about incidents like abuse and murder attributable to common-law marriage between partners." He continued, "Aren't the original form and values of the family collapsing in Japanese society? I am concerned that easily making it possible for married couples to choose between surnames could increase crime. We should be more cautious about (adopting the system)."

Tanaka and Moritaka were the only ones to comment during the committee session. Those who voted against the petition were Moritaka and another LDP assembly member, as well as three independents; all were conservative men.

As for the true intent behind his comment in the meeting, Moritaka told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't think I said anything as extreme as: crimes will increase if we allow for married couples to have different surnames." He went on to explain, "Divorces have increased in Japan, and the values of the family that used to exist are crumbling. There have been many incidents in which crumbling family values stand out. That is the background of my comment that we should be more cautious.

"It would be better if we'd reached a conclusion after more debate on the system, but there hasn't been that much discussion on the issue either in the National Diet or in regional assemblies," Moritaka said.

Additionally, he stated, "There were no other committee members who pointed out that my 'comment was off' nor was I warned by the committee chair. Perhaps I could have explained myself better, but my comment is my true intent," he said, indicating he felt there was no need to rectify or retract his remark.

Naho Ida, 44, is the director of the civic group Sentakuteki Fufu Bessei Zenkoku Chinjo Action (Optional different surname national petition action), which aims to realize the option for married couples to keep their premarital surnames or take the husband or the wife's surname through petitions and lobbying in regional assemblies across the country. "The petition was not one that we submitted, but the committee member's comment is prejudice with nothing to back it up. It's a discriminatory remark that implies that unless a parent changes their surname, their child will become involved in crime," she said. "We seek a retraction."

A 26-year-old woman who is originally from Ehime Prefecture but lives in Tokyo chose common-law marriage in July 2019 because she wanted to keep her surname. "I love Ehime to the point where I go back whenever there's a festival there," she said. "But I'm hurt and truly disappointed that such a remark was made in my home prefecture. I want our real opinions to be heard."

The committee's review of the petition will be reported to the Ehime Prefectural Assembly's plenary session on March 18, where a vote on the petition will take place.

(Japanese original by Aoi Hanazawa, Matsuyama Bureau)

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