Tokyo | In a historic ruling, Japan's Supreme Court on Wednesday declared that a law requiring surgery to remove a person's reproductive capabilities to register a gender change was "unconstitutional", Kyodo News reported.
The judgment, which was a consensus of all 15 justices of the top court's Grand Bench, was a turnaround from a 2019 top court decision that had found a legal provision requiring sterilization for a gender change on a family registry constitutional, Kyodo News reported.
"People are forced to make a tough choice between surgery and abandoning the decision to change genders, even for those who need not undergo operations," the top court said, noting medical progress since the law for people with gender dysphoria came into force in 2004.
According to Kyodo News, the latest development will lead the government to review the sterilization requirement, opening up the possibility of transgender people officially changing their gender without removing ovaries or testicles.
However, the top court's Grand Bench stopped short of reaching a conclusion on another surgery requirement that focuses on the physical appearance of the genitals. It mandates that they closely match the gender the individual seeks to change to, and the top court has requested a High Court to re-evaluate this particular requirement.
The applicant in the case, who was born as a man but identifies as a woman, said the outcome was "not as hoped."
"I am very disappointed that my gender change will not be realized at this moment," the woman, who lives in western Japan and has only disclosed her age as younger than 50, said in a statement, Kyodo News reported.
She has been hoping to change her legal gender without surgery, asserting that her reproductive capabilities have declined following years of hormone therapy.
The surgery requirement "causes an extreme physical and economic burden" and therefore violates the Constitution, which guarantees respect for individuals and equality under the law, she argued.
The woman's request for a gender change has been denied by family court and high courts due to her not undergoing surgery.
The Japanese law on gender dysphoria stipulates five conditions for those wishing to register as a member of the opposite sex, in addition to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from at least two physicians.
The five conditions comprise being no less than 18 years old, unmarried, having no underage children, having "no reproductive glands or whose reproductive glands have permanently lost function," and having "a body that appears to have parts that resemble the genital organs of those of the opposite gender", Kyodo News reported.