On Jan. 9, Yoshihisa Aono, 46, the president of the software firm Cybozu, and three others filed with the Tokyo District Court a lawsuit demanding the government pay a total of 2.2 million yen in damages. They claim that the Family Register Law, which prohibits couples from choosing different surnames upon marriage, violates equality under the Constitution. The issue of surname change after marriage will be brought to the court again two years after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Civil Code provision that bans the use of different surnames for married couples.
“Impediment to economic activities”
Aono married in 2001, a year after Cybozu was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s startup-focused Mothers market, and chose to take his wife’s surname. But he continues to work under his premarital surname Aono.
According to the complaint, it cost about 810,000 yen in fees to change his name on Cybozu’s corporate stocks he owned to his wife’s surname. The complaint also says that investors tend to mistakenly believe that “Aono doesn’t own Cybozu’s stocks despite his being the company president,” preventing him from engaging in efficient business activities.
Article 750 of the Civil Code stipulates, “A husband and wife shall adopt the surname of the husband or wife in accordance with their decision at the time of marriage.” In December 2015, the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court deemed the Civil Code provision “constitutional” for the first time.
Aono and others then focused on the Family Register Law, because the constitutionality of the Civil Code provision has been finalized by the Supreme Court. They claim that the law does not include a stipulation that allows Japanese couples to use different surnames after marriage, a practice that is permitted based on the law in marriages and divorces between Japanese and foreign nationals as well as in divorces between Japanese couples. They insist that the different treatment “is caused by a flaw in the law and contravenes constitutional rights guaranteeing equality under law.”
The suit was filed by Aono, a woman in her 20s who goes by her maiden name after marriage, and a couple who plan to have a common-law marriage to retain their surnames. They filed for 550,000 yen each in compensation from the government on the grounds that the denial of the right to use their pre-marriage name “caused them psychological suffering” and “prevented them from marrying legally.”
A representative from the Civil Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Justice stated, “The claim has not yet been delivered, so we cannot comment at this time.”