01/11/2011 04:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Japan Marital Surname Law Faces Lawsuit

Japan's government is about to face a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit, filed by five angry people who feel national laws requiring married couples to register under the same surname is a violation of personal rights.

As the Guardian is reporting, Japan remains the only G8 nation with laws governing marital surnames. As has been the case historically for Western marriages, Japanese women are required to relinquish their maiden name after marriage, although a small number of men opt to take their wife's name.

But critics of the law say it remains one of Japan's few remaining legal obstacles to gender equality. One person involved with the suit is 75-year-old Kyoko Tsukamoto, a retired teacher who plans to bear her maiden name as she dies, despite being married to her husband for 50 years. "My husband and I still love each other, but this and the issue of Tsukamoto are different," she tells Reuters. "I thought that I would get used to my husband's name, but I could not, and a sense of loss grew inside me." In an effort to regain her maiden name, Tsukamoto and her husband briefly divorced in 1965, but remarried when she became pregnant.

The rule is tied to Japan's traditional concept of the family, which ensured that property, businesses, and surnames were passed on to men within the family unit. While women have gained more leeway in using their maiden names at work over time, they must use their registered surnames for official documents like passports and health insurance cards.

Many couples were hopeful the government would amend the law after the Democratic Party of Japan, which advocated letting married couples maintain separate names, took power in 2009, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, the group faced stringent opposition. "There were expectations that it could be enacted but unfortunately this did not take place. They do not want to wait any longer," said Fujiko Sakakibara, lead lawyer for the group.