The Supreme Court has ruled that forced sterilization for individuals seeking to change their gender on their family register is constitutional, but added that future rulings may deem the practice unconstitutional in light of changes in society.

At issue was a law that went into effect in 2004 that allowed those diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) to legally change their gender on the family register, but only after undergoing surgical procedures to remove their reproductive organs.

The Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court issued a ruling Jan. 23 that said the law was constitutional "at the present time." However, the ruling added the condition that "ongoing consideration" be given to the possibility of different judicial rulings in the future depending on changes in society.

The case stems from a plea by Takakito Usui, a 45-year-old transgender man living in Okayama city, who wanted to legally change his gender without undergoing a sterilization procedure.

A family court and high court had previously rejected his plea, but after the Supreme Court ruling, Usui said at a Jan. 24 news conference in Okayama, "I felt the court listened to what I had to say and understood my situation."

Although all four justices concurred with the decision that the law was constitutional, two submitted supporting opinions that said it was difficult to deny that the possibility of the law being unconstitutional had emerged.

Justices Mamoru Miura and Kaoru Onimaru pointed to the fact that not only have more than 7,000 people changed their gender in Japan, but also that there is currently a greater understanding of the issue in the workplace and in schools.

Usui said the opinions were vastly different from the family and high court rulings, which made him feel that "they had simply ignored my existence."

While admitting regret that he had likely exhausted his legal options, Usui added, "Since I, as an individual, have done everything I could, I also have a clear mind and want to pass on the baton to the next generation with hope (that change will come in the future)."

Usui initially made his plea because he felt being forced to undergo sterilization violated Article 13 of the Constitution that states all individuals have the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In its ruling, the Supreme Court expressed the view that forcing individuals to undergo a procedure they may not want in order to legally change their gender could constitute a restriction on their freedom not to have their body violated against their will.

At the same time, the top court also considered the background in which the sterilization condition was included. It said confusion could arise in society because of issues that would emerge between a parent and child if the child was born before the gender change was made.

It added that the longstanding practice had been to differentiate between the sexes based on their biological gender.

However, the top court went on to say that it was possible that the judgment over whether such consideration of background factors was appropriate could change depending on changes in society. It then conditionally ruled the law as constitutional, but said there was a need for ongoing consideration.

The ruling clearly recognizes changes in society's awareness about sexual minorities. Globally, forced sterilization is generally recognized as a violation of human rights and more nations now allow for a legal gender change without undergoing sterilization.

Usui was diagnosed with GID when he was 39 and legally changed his name on his family register. He has undergone hormone therapy and other steps to develop more manly characteristics and features.

He currently lives with his partner, Miyuki Yamamoto, and her son. He had wanted to legally marry Yamamoto after changing his gender, but he did not want to have his ovaries and uterus removed because he felt "the essential thing should not be whether you have had an operation or not, but how you want to live as an individual."

While he has run out of legal options, Usui said he hoped the legislative branch would use the Supreme Court ruling as an impetus to revise the law in a more favorable manner.

His lawyer, Tomoyasu Oyama, said while the constitutional ruling was regrettable, he felt the supporting opinions would serve as a major step toward eventually revising the law.

(This article was compiled from reports by Gen Okamoto, Yuri Murakami and Yuki Nikaido.)