"Japan’s highest court upheld a law dating back more than a century that requires married couples to share the same surname, rejecting a claim on Wednesday that it discriminates against women by effectively forcing them to give up their names in favor of their husbands’.
"The ruling was a blow to Japanese women seeking to keep their maiden names after marriage. Some couples have chosen not to register their marriages — opting instead to stay in common-law relationships with fewer legal protections — in order to keep separate surnames.
"The prohibition against separate surnames has survived decades of challenges in the courts and in Parliament, but it was the first time a suit seeking to overturn it had reached the Supreme Court. Ten of the court’s 15 justices ruled that the ban, first imposed in 1898, was consistent with constitutional protections for gender equality.
"Although the law does not specify which spouse’s surname must be used, wives adopt their husbands’ names in an estimated 95 percent of cases.
"The chief justice, Itsuro Terada, said the law did not impose an undue burden on women in part because they could continue using their maiden names in their professional lives, a practice that has become more widely accepted in recent years.
"The government began allowing married civil servants, for instance, to use their former surnames for official business in 2001.
“The issue of separate names for spouses should be debated in Parliament,” Justice Terada said, throwing the issue back to the legislature.
"The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will have to calibrate its response carefully. Mr. Abe has positioned himself as an ally of working women, contending that Japan needs to keep more women in the labor force as its population shrinks and ages. But many members of his right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party support the surname law, and the party has quashed previous parliamentary initiatives aimed at changing it.
Newspaper surveys have shown that a slim majority of the public favors changing the law to allow couples to keep separate surnames."