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The highest court in Japan has ruled against the mandatory surgery for gender change.
Science & Health

The highest court in Japan has ruled against the mandatory surgery for gender change.

The highest court in Japan declared on Wednesday that a regulation mandating transgender individuals to have sterilization surgery in order to legally change their gender is in violation of the country’s constitution.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court’s 15-judge Grand Bench was its initial verdict on the legality of Japan’s 2003 statute mandating the removal of sex organs for individuals seeking a state-recognized gender change. This practice has faced widespread condemnation from global human rights and medical organizations.

The ruling mandates that the government reassess the legislation, marking progress in allowing transgender individuals to update their identity on legal paperwork without undergoing sterilization. However, it is not a complete triumph as the Supreme Court has returned the case to the lower court for a more thorough evaluation of the necessity for gender confirmation surgery.

In 2020, a claimant filed a case after her request for a change in gender designation from male to female in her family registry was denied by lower courts.

At this moment, there is increased attention on concerns regarding the LGBTQ+ community in Japan. This decision is a small win for that group.

The court document and the lawyers for the plaintiff stated that the judges unanimously declared the section of the law mandating sterilization for a gender change as unconstitutional. However, the higher court has instructed for the case to be returned to the lower court for additional evaluation of the need for gender-affirming surgery. The plaintiff’s legal team expressed disappointment in this decision as it postpones the resolution of this matter.

According to regulations, individuals who identify as transgender and wish to update their gender on government records and other legal papers must be clinically diagnosed with gender dysphoria and undergo a surgical procedure to remove their reproductive organs.

Additional criteria include being single and without offspring.

Lawyers of a claimant, Kazuyuki Minami, left, and Masafumi Yoshida, right, speak to media after the ruling of the Supreme Court, Oct. 25, 2023, in Tokyo.

On October 25, 2023, in Tokyo, the legal representatives of Kazuyuki Minami, including his lawyers Masafumi Yoshida and another individual, spoke to the press following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Recently, LGBTQ+ advocates in Japan have increased their push for a law against discrimination. This comes after a former assistant to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated in February that he would not want to reside near LGBTQ+ individuals and that Japanese citizens would leave the country if same-sex marriage were permitted.

However, progress has been gradual and Japan is still the only member of the Group of Seven that does not permit same-sex marriage or provide legal safeguards, such as a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.

The individual making the claim, who is a female resident in her late 40s living in western Japan, initially submitted the request in 2020. She argues that the requirement for surgery places a significant financial and physical strain, and also goes against the equal rights protections stated in the constitution.

Recent ruling in a Japanese family court has brought hope to human rights organizations and the LGBTQ+ community. The court accepted a request for a gender change without the requirement of surgery, which had previously been deemed mandatory and unconstitutional.

In 2004, a special law was enacted that requires individuals seeking to change their registered gender to undergo surgery to remove their original reproductive organs (such as testes or ovaries) and have a body that visually resembles the genitalia of their desired gender.

According to court documents from the October 11 ruling, over 10,000 Japanese individuals have legally changed their gender since then. This was in response to Gen Suzuki’s request for a gender change without undergoing mandatory surgery.

According to the Shizuoka judgement, the majority of approximately 50 European and central Asian nations that permit individuals to legally alter their gender on official documents do not mandate surgery to remove sex organs. The ruling also acknowledged that this practice has gained widespread acceptance in various regions globally.

In a society that values conformity, the conservative government upholds traditional family values and is hesitant to embrace diversity in sexual and family relationships. As a result, many individuals within the LGBTQ+ community feel compelled to conceal their sexual orientation out of concern for potential discrimination in their workplaces and educational institutions.

Certain organizations are against increasing inclusivity for transgender individuals, particularly for those transitioning from being assigned male at birth to female. On Tuesday, these groups filed petitions to the Supreme Court, urging them to maintain the current requirement of undergoing surgery.

Many cities now offer partnership certificates to same-sex couples to make it easier for them to rent apartments and access other services, but these certificates do not carry legal weight.

In 2019, the Supreme Court heard another case from a transgender man who wanted to change their gender on official documents without undergoing mandatory surgery to remove sexual organs and sterilization. The court deemed the current law to be constitutional.

The Supreme Court’s decision stated that the law is constitutional as its purpose is to decrease confusion in both families and society. However, the court also recognized that it limits freedom and may become outdated with evolving social attitudes, therefore warranting future evaluation.