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Japan's top court upholds law requiring married couples to have same surname

Japan's Supreme Court has upheld a law stipulating that married couples must have the same surname. Strictly speaking, the law is not gender-specific, but many women have argued that it is discriminatory.

In a ruling some see as a blow to gender equality, Japan's top court upheld the law as constitutional, while also deciding in a separate ruling that women shouldn't have to wait six months to remarry following a divorce.

The law does not specificy which name couples must use, but traditionally women have taken their husbands' names, causing many activists to decry the law as sexist.

Following presiding judge Itsuro Terada's decision, several of the female plaintiffs expressed their disappointment in a press conference.

Anger over 'sexist' law

"I am embarrassed that Japan remains so behind," Minako Yoshii told reporters, as quoted by AFP news agency. Other women at the press conference also expressed their frustration at a law they considered to be outdated.

In some marraiges in Japan, especially in the case of a relatively wealthy family without a male heir, the husband will adopt his new wife's surname.

The same day as the surname decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a law prohibiting women from remarrying for six months after a divorce was unconstitutional. The law, adopted before the era of DNA testing, was supposed to prevent confusion over paternity of children if a woman changed partners during pregnancy. However, the court ruled that scientific developments had rendered the law obsolete.

The two rulings come as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts to get more women into the country's increasingly small workforce. Abe's party, however, opposed changing the surname law.

blc/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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