A transgender man is challenging a Japanese law that forces transgender people to undergo sterilization surgery before they can be officially recognised as their true gender.
Takakito Usui, 43, identifies as male and wants to be recognised as male on the Koseki – Japan’s family register.
But under Japanese law, Usui must be unmarried, childless and undergo medical sterilization before his gender can be updated on the Koseki.
Usui wanted to change his gender legally without undergoing sterilization. He took his case to the Family Court but was rejected.
He argued the law was unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of people’s right to be respected as individuals.
‘The law violates Article 13 of the Constitution because it requires (invasive) surgery that does tremendous damage to a person’s body and, therefore, is invalid,’ he said.
On Monday the Okayama Family Court said the sterilization requirement ‘is not unreasonable to the extent of violating the Constitution’.
‘It is interpreted that the operation requirement was based on the understanding that keeping the reproductive ability of the sex an individual was born as is not appropriate,’ the court said in its ruling.
Usui said the law was ‘out of touch with reality’.
‘The law is not fit to cover all cases because the circumstances surrounding people dealing with gender identity issues are widely varied,’ he told media.
‘I hear some people who underwent operations came to regret them.
‘The essential thing should not be whether you have had an operation or not, but how you want to live as an individual.’
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan and Usui wants to be recognised as a male on the Koseki so that he can marry his girlfriend.
About 20% of the 15,000 people who sought transition related healthcare between 2004 and 2012 in Japan underwent sterilization.
The Japanese Justice Ministry said the surgery requirement was put in place to avoid ‘various confusion and problems that would arise when a child was born because of the reproductive ability retained from the former sex’.
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture called on all countries to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization of transgender and intersex people.
In a 2013 discussion paper the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said forced sterilization was a violation of human rights. The World Health Organization also called for the end of sterilization.
WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) said ‘no person should have to undergo surgery or accept sterilization as a condition of identity recognition’.
Many countries still require sterilization, but the tide is slowly changing.
In 2012, Sweden ruled a forced sterilization requirement intrudes on a person’s physical integrity and cannot be considered voluntary.
The UNDP noted legal battles and campaigns like Usui’s were happening around the world and would be the key in changing outdated laws.