Light Wave


Big win for transgender rights as Japan Supreme Court axes sterilization rule

By Jake Beardslee · October 26, 2023

In brief…

  • Japan's Supreme Court ruled requiring transgender sterilization for legal gender change is unconstitutional.
  • The decision is seen as a landmark for LGBTQ+ rights but does not address surgery requirement.
  • Current law mandates sterilization, gender dysphoria diagnosis, no kids under 18, and sex organ removal for change.
  • Ruling sends law back for re-examination of surgery stipulation; advocates hoped court would also find that unconstitutional.
Japan's Supreme Court ruled that mandating transgender sterilization for legal gender change is unconstitutional in a landmark decision for LGBTQ+ rights, though the ruling fell short of determining the gender reassignment surgery requirement is also unconstitutional.  Big Ben in Japan from Kawasaki, Japan/Wikimedia

The Supreme Court of Japan made a landmark ruling on Wednesday, determining that requiring transgender individuals to be sterilized in order to legally change their gender is unconstitutional. Though the decision does not address the constitutionality of mandating gender reassignment surgery overall for a legal gender change, it is seen as progress for LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

The law passed in 2003 forced “those who seek a gender change a cruel choice between accepting the sterilization surgery that causes intense bodily invasion and giving up important legal benefits of being treated according to their gender identity,” the court stated. This partial victory sends the law back for re-examination on the surgery prerequisite.

The unnamed claimant in her late 40s sought to change her gender from male to female in the family registry in 2020 but was denied by lower courts. All 15 Supreme Court judges unanimously found the sterilization stipulation to be unconstitutional. However, the court did not find the gender affirmation surgery mandate unconstitutional, disappointing advocates.

The law currently requires a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, unmarried status, no children under 18, and the removal of original sex organs for legal gender change. Over 10,000 Japanese people have changed their gender legally since the law took effect. Most of the approximately 50 countries in Europe and Central Asia with legal gender change do not necessitate surgery.

Though some oppose expanded transgender rights, many see this ruling as progress for LGBTQ+ people in Japan’s society. A few local governments now provide partnership certificates for same-sex couples, but they are not legally binding. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law but acknowledged it could become outdated.