Japan: Court makes 'landmark decision' ruling surgery not required for legal gender change

A participant holds up a placard during the International Transgender Day of Visibility rally in Shibuya district of Tokyo on March 31, 2023 © Yuichi Yamazaki / AFP / Getty Images

In response to the Supreme Court of Japan’s ruling that a law requiring people to undergo reproductive surgery if they want to legally change gender is unconstitutional, Boram Jang, Amnesty International’s East Asia Researcher, said:

“This is a landmark decision for transgender rights in Japan, and the latest encouraging sign that countries in the region are re-evaluating discriminatory practices or laws affecting LGBTI people.

“The court’s ruling is an important step forward, but the fight for LGBTI rights in Japan remains an uphill battle. 

“We continue to call on the Japanese authorities to ensure legal gender recognition is not contingent on psychiatric diagnosis, medical treatment such as gender-affirming surgery or other abusive or discriminatory requirements such as being unmarried or not having children. It must be a quick, accessible and transparent administrative process based on a person’s self-determination.” 

The ruling

The Supreme Court issued a ruling today (25 October) in a family law case, declaring that the stipulation of the Special Law on Gender Identity Disorder, which mandates surgical sterilisation as a prerequisite for gender reassignment, is unconstitutional in Japan. This decision was based on the determination that the sterilisation requirement runs counter to Article 13 of the Constitution, which emphasises the importance of respect for individual rights. 

The Special Law on Gender Identity Disorder stipulates the procedures for changing a person’s legal gender on the family register. If a person is diagnosed with gender identity disorder by doctors and files a petition with the Family Court, and meets all of the following five requirements: (1) 18 years of age or older, (2) not currently married, (3) no minor children, (4) no reproductive function, and (5) genitalia similar in appearance to those of the sex after the change, the change of legal gender will be approved. 

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