Married women in Turkey no longer need to use husband’s last name, due to constitutional court ruling

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Married women in Turkey no longer have to use their husband’s last name. Turkey’s Constitutional Court struck down a provision in the Turkish Civil Code which prevented women from using solely their own surnames after marriage.

Article 187 of the Turkish civil code states, “A woman takes her husband’s surname upon marriage; however, she can also use her previous surname before her husband’s surname with a written application to the marriage officer or later to the civil registry office.” The provision did not allow women to use only their surnames after marriage.

The Constitutional Court on April 2023 ruled to strike down the article’s first sentence and allowed nine months for the Turkish Parliament to draft a new article that is in line with gender equality. The deadline expired this Jan. 28, on which Article 187 became void.

Turkey’s parliament has not yet prepared a draft article, although the article is likely to be included in the new judicial reform package.

Activists have been fighting Article 187 for 25 years, saying it is at odds with equal rights. Law professor Nazan Moroğlu says that the right to choose one’s “surname is an essential, indispensable, and inalienable personal right.” Moroğlu argues that giving only men the right to choose their surname led to discrimination against women and gender inequality.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Article 187 was against the equality clause of the constitution, and unequally treated partners of similar standing based on their sex.

As a result of its ruling, women are no longer required to list their husband’s last name after marriage in official documents. For example, they no longer have to list themselves with their husband’s last name on their court complaints and other lawsuit-initiating documents, and can now choose to use only their own last name, such as a maiden name.

Professor Moroğlu claims that all articles related to Article 187 need changes, including those involving the surnames of children. “Saying that a married woman must take her husband’s surname, and the child take their father’s surname is lending official support to the patriarchy,” Moroğlu claims.

The AYM ruling striking down Article 187 did not deny that there were valid reasons for wanting a family to have a common surname, but said, “It is clear that there exist other options for families to have a common surname than the woman taking over her husband’s surname after marriage.”

The ruling suggests couples should be provided with the option to take over either one’s surname, another surname, or use a combination of both parties’ surnames after marriage.

However, using a combination of surnames seems impractical. If hyphenated last names are used, then last names will double in length every time people get married. For example, if Smith and Brown get married, and use a hyphenated name, then their last name will be Smith-Brown, and so will their children’s last name. And if their child named Smith-Brown gets married to the child of Johnson and Jones — who is named Johnson-Jones — then their grandchildren will be named Smith-Brown-Johnson-Jones, which is very long and unwieldy to use.

Judge Muammer Topal who voted against the ruling, claimed that equality between men and women is “one of the modern superstitions,” in his dissenting opinion in the April 2023 decision. He said, “There is structural inequality between men and women as a reality of creation. This situation is generally seen as an obstacle to the equality of women and men in terms of their position in society.”

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By GIL