【Editorial】Lawsuits Filed Seeking Separate Surnames:Do Not Change the Basic Unit of Society

【Original】March 21, 2024

A lawsuit was filed against laws that prohibit different surnames for married couples, claiming they violate the constitution. As respect for the individual grows, more people are accepting separate surnames for married couples as an alternative. Nevertheless, we must not misunderstand the essence of the problem.

The Same Surname Is a “Family Designation”

Using the same surname gives married couples a “family designation,” but allowing separate surnames changes the dynamic to an “individual designation.” In other words, the basic unit of society will change from the family to the individual. This is the essence of introducing separate surnames, and the issue should not be reduced to individual freedom.

Our country is currently experiencing an eruption of problems revolving around the family, such as the declining birthrate and child abuse. Behind these problems lies excessive individualism. The introduction of separate surnames will not only destroy the family system, which is a pillar of Japanese culture, but also weaken the bond between parents and children; thus, adding to social turmoil.

Twelve men and women from Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Nagano Prefecture filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo and Sapporo District Courts, claiming that the Civil Code and the Family Registration Law, which do not recognize separate surnames, are unconstitutional. One of the plaintiffs said that she has chosen de facto marriage because she does not want to change her surname, reasoning that her name is her own. However, she claims that de facto marriage puts couples at a disadvantage in inheritance compared to married couples.

The Grand Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the same surname was constitutional in both 2015 and 2021. Surnames do not merely serve as a sign of personal identity. The benefits of sharing the same surname have logically been explained as it “lets people in society know the couple is part of the family” and “allows the couple to feel that they are part of the family.”

The Grand Bench also noted that the question of what kind of system should be implemented over a married couple’s surname and the examination of constitutional conformity are “of different (issues).” The nature of the system “should be debated and decided by the Diet,” it stated. Filing the same lawsuit within three years, after it had twice been ruled that the system was constitutional, would be an abuse of the lawsuit. Some fear that the trial is being used as a political campaign.

On the other hand, polls show a growing positive trend toward separate surnames. This is particularly true in the business community. Some strongly favor the idea, saying, “This is the very first step in supporting women’s work styles and diverse reforms” (Masakazu Tokura, Chairman of Keidanren or Japan Business Federation). The fact that many women change their family names due to marriage may result in making such a statement. The argument that the same surname is discrimination against women has also been brought up. This is likely because the reason same surnames were introduced is not well known.

In recent years, the use of the maiden name as alias has expanded not only in the workplace but also on passports and driver’s licenses, and the inconvenience caused by change in surname has largely been eliminated. It is disconcerting to speak out about the negative effects of changing one’s surname.

Think from the Children’s Point of View.

When discussing whether to have the same or separate surnames, we should also address the harmful effects of the latter. Not to be forgotten is the negative impact this will bring on children. By sharing the same surname, the child’s will be the same as the parents’. However, if choosing a different surname is made optional, this could cause family conflicts, such as disputes between spouses over the surname of their children. Depending on what system is implemented, there may be cases where siblings have different family names. It is important to consider the pros and cons of introducing different surnames from the perspective of the children.

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