Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld a law that requires transgender people to be sterilized before they can have their gender changed on official documents.
On Jan. 31, a four-judge panel said in a unanimous decision that the 2004 law is constitutional because it was meant to reduce confusion in families and society, reports NBC News.
But the court also acknowledged that the law restricts transgender people’s freedom and could become out-of-step with changing societal values.
Under the law, transgender people who wish to transition must prove they have undergone gender confirmation surgery to remove their original reproductive organs, whether testes or ovaries, and have a body that “appears to have parts that resemble the genital organs” of the gender with which they identify.
The law was initially challenged by Takakito Usui, a 45-year-old transgender man who argued that forced sterilization violated his right to self-determination.
Despite the unanimous decision, presiding justice Mamoru Miura joined another justice in saying that while the law is not unconstitutional, “doubts are undeniably emerging.” The two judges also proposed regular reviews of the law and appropriate measures “from the viewpoint of respect for personality and individuality,” according to Japanese media reports.
Despite the Supreme Court decision, Usui expressed hope that he would “find what constitutes a family off my own that does not fit the traditional mold.”
Japan does not legally recognize same-sex marriages, although some municipalities have begun issuing partnership certificates — which are not legally binding — in order to help same-sex couples avoid being discriminated against. The current ruling party, the right-wing Liberal Democrats, is generally considered hostile towards LGBTQ rights.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that laws requiring transgender people to be sterilized before they can have their gender identity recognized are violations of the principles set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights. The court also called on countries with such laws to permanently eliminate them. Unfortunately, there are no Asia-wide conventions or organizations designed to protect human rights.
A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, an international organization that has previously condemned Japan’s law, was not immediately available for comment.