Japan’s top court on Wednesday upheld a law that requires married couples to have a common surname, sparking criticism from activists who complain the rule is sexist and outdated.
In a separate but also highly anticipated decision, the Supreme Court said a six-month waiting period for women remarrying after divorce was excessive and should be reduced.
The remarriage law is linked to complex rules over the timing of a child’s birth after divorce—designed to determine whether a baby belonged to the ex-husband or the new spouse’s family in an era before DNA testing.
The court said the six-month waiting period was too long given the availability of modern technology to confirm paternity and instead urged a period of no more than 100 days.
The late 19th century rules are a throwback to Japan’s feudal family system, in which all women and children came under the control of the head of the household—overwhelmingly men.
That family system was abolished in 1948 as part of broad reforms pushed by the post-World War II US occupation, but Japan’s civil code maintained the surname and remarriage rules.
“It does not violate the constitution,” presiding justice Itsuro Terada said of the surname law, according to a ruling posted on the court’s website.
About 96% of married women in Japan take their husband’s family name.
Activists had hoped the court would overturn both rules, which they said reflected a still male-dominated society more than a century after they came into effect, and meant Japan lagged behind other advanced countries.
“I am embarrassed that Japan remains so behind,” plaintiff Minako Yoshii told reporters in response to the surname ruling.
“I was disappointed after hearing the verdict because I had high expectations—we brought the case to the court because lawmakers had neglected this issue for too long.”