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Japan ruling party's wariness of separate surnames for spouses striking

People who have gathered to hear the stump speech of a party leader after the House of Representatives election was announced, are seen in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Oct. 19, 2021, from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. The photo is partially modified. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appears to be the only major Japanese political party that is reluctant to allow married couples to have separate surnames, as was evident in a statement made by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during an Oct. 19 television program on public broadcaster NHK.

    "Isn't there a need for more debate in society as a whole before we accept this system?" Kishida said of the selective surname scheme after marriage. "I'd like us to further our discussion on this."

    The LDP has not touched on the issue of allowing married couples to select one of their surnames or keep their own in the party's platform for the Oct. 31 general election. Primarily conservatives in the LDP oppose the selective option, and there is a deeply rooted view that married people can use their original surnames when doing business, but must legally have the same surname as their spouse.

    Meanwhile, Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, takes a positive view of the option to take the same surname as one's spouse or keep one's own after marriage. Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said on the same NHK program, "People who accept the optional system have increased, even within the LDP. There is broad support for it among the public as well. We would like everyone in the LDP to accept the changing attitudes of society and the Japanese public, so that we can come up with a consensus as soon as possible."

    The opposition parties are also enthusiastic about the optional system. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) leader Yukio Edano has explicitly stated, "The highest priority challenge for me is the implementation of an optional surname system." Japanese Communist Party (JCP) chief Kazuo Shii said in his first stump speech on Oct. 19, "The optional surname system has become a major point of contention."

    The Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Reiwa Shinsengumi are also calling for the implementation of the optional surname system. Even the conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which has avoided suprapartisan collaboration against the ruling coalition, has come out in favor of giving legal weight to the use of pre-marriage surnames when doing business.

    The LDP's wariness is also prominent in a related issue: same-sex marriage. The CDP, Komeito, JCP, JPP, SDP and Reiwa Shinsengumi have all included the realization or consideration of same-sex marriage into their campaign pledges, but the LDP, which has members who oppose same-sex marriage, have not mentioned it in their campaign promises.

    (Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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