Japan’s Supreme Court Declares Sterilization Requirement for Transgender Recognition Unconstitutional
In a groundbreaking decision, Japan’s highest court has ruled that a law requiring transgender individuals to be sterilized before legally changing their gender identity is unconstitutional. The ruling is being hailed as a major victory for the LGBTQ community in Japan.
Under the existing law, which was enacted 20 years ago, transgender individuals who wish to change their identity documents must meet several criteria. They must be diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” be at least 18 years old, unmarried, and have no dependent children. Additionally, they must have undergone invasive procedures, such as sterilization and plastic surgery, to have genital organs similar to those of the opposite sex.
This controversial law has long faced criticism from human rights groups, but previous court challenges had been dismissed. The recent case, brought by a transgender woman seeking to change her legal sex from male to female without surgery, finally reached the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff argued that years of hormone therapy had already affected her reproductive capacity, rendering the sterilization requirement unnecessary. The family court and high court had previously rejected her case, but the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, stating that the sterilization provision was “contrary” to the Constitution.
In its ruling, the court emphasized that reproductive rights are fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution. It deemed the requirement to involuntarily undergo the removal of reproductive capacity as a “cruel choice.” This historic decision marks only the 12th time since World War II that the Supreme Court has declared a legal provision unconstitutional, prompting the Japanese Parliament to review the law.
However, while the sterilization requirement will be changed, the court declined to rule on the provision regarding genital organs. This aspect of the law will be sent back to a lower court for further deliberation. The decision has thus received mixed reactions from the LGBTQ community, with some celebrating the progress while expressing concerns about the remaining surgical requirements and broader social attitudes.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Kazuyuki Minami, expressed his satisfaction with the ruling, highlighting its significance in a country where few laws have been deemed unconstitutional. He acknowledged the frustration that the desired outcome had not been fully achieved, but expressed hope that the case will pave the way for a positive future.
The National Coalition for the Establishment of Laws for People with Disabilities due to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, also known as the LGBT Law Coalition, applauded the decision but emphasized the importance of fair decisions on the remaining requirements for transgender individuals.
Japan has long held conservative stances on LGBTQ issues, and discrimination against sexual minorities remains prevalent despite shifting attitudes. The country is the only one in the Group of Seven (G7) that does not legally protect same-sex unions. Efforts to pass a law promoting LGBTQ understanding were delayed and ultimately resulted in a watered-down version without human rights guarantees.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, while a significant step forward, highlights the ongoing battles for equal rights and acceptance faced by the LGBTQ community in Japan.