Japan Supreme Court: Couple Must Use Same Surname
Women's rights activists say the rule is antiquated, discriminatory
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2015 12:19 PM CST
In this Aug. 12, 2015, file photo, a couple dressed in Japanese traditional wedding garb pose for a wedding photo in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

(Newser) – Japan's Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday that maintains a longtime civil rule some say is unconstitutional and discriminatory: forcing married couples to officially choose one surname, the BBC reports. Presiding Justice Itsuro Terada said that the surname mandate wasn't discriminatory, since a couple could choose to use either the husband's or the wife's surname, though the Japan Times notes that studies over the past four decades show that 96% of couples use the man's name. Terada also noted that women often used their maiden names informally anyway, which would mitigate any distress they felt over losing their maiden name on paper. The one-name system is "deeply rooted in our society," Terada said, and "enables people to identify themselves as part of a family in the eyes of others."

Women's rights activists disagree, saying not only is the surname rule inconvenient for women professionals, it's also an emotional transition that can bring on depression and loss of identity, the Times notes. Some couples are even opting to simply stay in common-law relationships rather than marry so the woman can keep her surname, the New York Times notes. It hasn't always been this way. Japanese women traditionally kept their maiden names, but a strict 1898 feudal law forced women and kids to answer to male heads of household, per the BBC. That system was nixed in 1948, but the surname restriction stuck. On a somewhat more progressive note: A second rule barring Japanese women from remarrying until six months after a divorce to avoid paternity confusion was deemed unconstitutional, per the Times. That waiting period has now been cut to 100 days. (An alternate view: Don't judge a woman who chooses to take her husband's name.)