Japan high court approves gender status change without surgery

A high court in Japan has approved a request by a person to change their official gender status without undergoing surgery.

The Hiroshima High Court made the decision on Wednesday for a person diagnosed with gender identity disorder, who is legally male but lives as a woman.

Under current Japanese law, a person's gender recorded on their family registry can only be changed if certain conditions are met.

The law effectively requires those wishing to change their legal gender to undergo surgery so that they no longer have reproductive function and their genital organs resemble those of the opposite gender.

In a landmark ruling last October, the Supreme Court said that requiring people to undergo surgery to remove their reproductive function when they wish to officially change gender is unconstitutional. But the court did not make a decision on whether it should be required for a person's genital organs to resemble those of the gender they identify with.

The Grand Bench of the Supreme Court

The high court on Wednesday said that the requirement imposes an excessive restriction on people by forcing them to choose between undergoing surgery, and thus giving up the right not to be harmed, or forgoing the legal recognition of one's gender identity.

Presiding Judge Kurachi Masumi said that the requirement could be in violation of the Constitution.

The judge said it is reasonable to interpret that the requirement is satisfied as long as an individual appears to be of the opposite gender to others, even if surgery is not performed.

The court allowed the petitioner to change their official gender status as the individual had developed a feminine-looking body through hormone treatment.

Hiroshima High Court

'Lifelong wish finally comes true'

The individual who was granted the change in gender status expressed gratitude in a comment released by their lawyers.

The statement says, "A lifelong wish has finally come true." It adds, "I'm so pleased that I'll be freed from the hardships I've experienced due to the difference between my social gender and my legal gender."

The person filed a petition with a family court five years ago after considering the physical burden of surgery on a healthy body, and an inevitable long stay in hospital.

Lawyers and experts contacted by NHK called the decision "extremely unusual."

Minami Kazuyuki, the petitioner's lawyer, said the court clarified how legal requirements should be interpreted. "It is now easier for people to seek court approval for a change in gender status if they have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and are receiving medical treatment, such as hormone injections," he said.

Lawyer Minami Kazuyuki speaks to reporters after the court's decision on Wednesday.

Group calls for new law

A group called Save Women's Space, which opposes the abolishment of surgery requirements for changing official gender status, has released a comment saying it "strongly protests the court's decision."

"Individuals who change their legal gender from male to female without genital appearance surgery still have male sexual organs even if they have diminished in size due to the injection of female hormones," it said.

The group said what counts most is to establish a law that stipulates people cannot use spaces reserved for women as long as they have male genitals.

Komeito aims to revise the law

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi Yoshimasa said he will refrain from commenting on the matter as the government is not a party concerned in the trial, and is not aware of the details.

He added that relevant ministries and agencies are working on practical measures based on the Supreme Court's ruling last October.

The government's top spokesperson has no comment on the high court's ruling.

Komeito says it has reached an opinion on the requirement to change gender status. This includes eliminating the requirement for surgery to remove reproductive function. The party aims to revise the law with its coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, at an extraordinary Diet session in the autumn.

The Ministry of Justice has been considering revising the law in response to the October ruling.