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A Trans Woman’s Marriage in Japan is in Jeopardy Over Legal Limitations

"We've effectively broken the system."

By 2 min read

Elin McCready is a transgender woman living in Tokyo who is happily married to her wife of 19 years, Midori, with whom she has three children. But their marriage status might be forcibly revoked now that she is trying to legally change her gender in a country where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized.

According to an article on Channel News Asia, McCready, who is a linguistics professor at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, ran into a brick wall of bureaucracy upon submitting paperwork to change her name and gender as part of her transition.

“We’ve effectively broken the system,” said McCready.

After successfully updating her U.S. passport back in her hometown of Texas, and her Japanese foreign residence card to her new name and gender here in Tokyo without issue, she reported the changes to her local municipality as required by law. But the ward officers rejected these changes, citing the fact that McCready and her wife cannot both check the “wife” category on their residency certificate.

McCready explained, “Their options are to say ‘Okay, we allow your marriage,’ in which case they have set a precedent for same-sex marriage, or to say ‘No, we don’t allow your marriage,’ in which case they have to unilaterally cancel our marriage without our consent.”

She believes that she is the first person to present this dilemma to the Japanese government, which is still discussing the case four months later.

Government officials initially proposed an idea that devastated McCready — changing the couple’s relationship status from “married” to “enkosha,” meaning “distant relatives” or “difficult-to-describe relations.”

But the couple has no intentions of breaking up, as Midori expressed, “The thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of our family to both of us and the fact that neither of us has any desire to go out and form a new family.”

Of small consolation is the fact that as a permanent resident of Japan, McCready does not face deportation if her marital status changes.

Under current law, gay marriage is illegal in Japan, though several municipalities have introduced “partnership” ordinances that recognize the relationship status of same-sex couples. However, these are not legally binding.

Transgender rights, too, find precarious footing here — an issue recently brought to international attention when a ruling by Japan’s Supreme Court was upheld that essentially requires transgender people be sterilized before they can have their gender changed on legal documents.

In the current state of legal limbo, McCready cannot renew her health insurance policy nor receive paperwork necessary for her to move into her new home, which is planned for this summer. Between this time crunch and the recent lawsuit against the Japanese government to recognize gay marriage, is it possible that McCready’s case will become the first instance of gay marriage in Japan?

We can only hope that the answer is yes, both for McCready’s family and the gay couples in Japan who cannot get married in the first place — at least, not yet.

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