Supreme Court to decide on constitutionality of gender reassignment surgery requirement

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is poised to decide on the constitutionality of a legal provision that effectively requires people to undergo surgical sterilization if they want to change the gender recorded on their family registers.

A person diagnosed with gender identity disorder is seeking to change the gender on official family records from male to female without undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

The Supreme Court ruled that the provision was “constitutional” in 2019.

The inability to reproduce based on the original gender is a requirement for changing gender on family registers under a law that came into effect in 2004. As a result, people have undergone surgery to remove their reproductive organs in order to change their gender on family registers, enabling them to get official documents under their preferred gender.

In the latest case, the person is claiming that gender reassignment surgery imposes a heavy burden physically, financially and socially, and that the provisions of the related law violate the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law and states that all people should be respected as individuals.

The Okayama Family Court rejected the person’s petition in May 2020, and the Okayama Branch of the Hiroshima High Court rejected the appeal in September 2020. The person subsequently filed a special appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the 2019 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision was constitutional, noting that it is based on considerations to avoid problems with parent-child relationships and confusion in society if a child is born according to the reproductive function of a parent before a gender change, for example.

However, the court also noted that “the conformity of the provision to the Constitution requires constant examination. In a supplemental opinion, two judges stated that doubts exist about the constitutionality of the provision, pointing out that whether or not people undergo surgery should essentially be a matter of free will.

Normally, the Supreme Court’s hearings are conducted by a petty bench of five judges. However, when a new constitutional decision is necessary, the case is referred to the Grand Bench attended by all 15 Supreme Court judges.

The 2019 ruling was made by a petty bench, but the Supreme Court decided Wednesday to refer the latest case to the Grand Bench.