Turkish gov’t seeks to limit women’s post-marriage surname choice despite top court ruling

A bride and groom walk as they get ready for wedding pictures on October 17, 2017 in Ortaköy neighborhood of İstanbul. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

The Turkish government is preparing to prevent women from using their maiden name after marriage in a new judicial package that will oblige them to adopt the surname of the man they marry and allow them to only use their maiden name preceding their spouse’s family name, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Birgün daily.

The draft of the 9th judicial package, moved forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), fails to give women the right to use only their maiden name after marriage despite a Constitutional Court decision to overturn the provision restricting it.

In April 2023 the court annulled Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code, which said the wife shall take on her husband’s surname after marriage but that the woman can use her own surname preceding that of her husband through a written application later made to the marriage officer or civil registry office.

The top court gave the Turkish parliament until late January to draft “a new regulation in accordance with the equality of women and men.” The parliament did not pass the legislation within this period, and the relevant regulations were expected to be addressed in the new judicial package, according to Turkish media reports.

Birgün said the rationale provided in the draft text argues that using different surnames by spouses would allegedly “harm the integrity of the family, which is the foundation of society.” It is also claimed that women’s use of their maiden name after marriage would have “negative effects on their children,” as it would lead to a separate debate on which surname the children will use.

On the contrary, the top court noted in its 2023 decision that it is difficult to say that family ties cannot be preserved in any way if spouses do not have a common surname. The court also argued that the aim of preserving and strengthening family ties cannot be accepted as a reasonable justification for the unequal treatment envisaged by the surname rule.

SOL (Left) Feminist Movement Member Dilara Kurtuluş told Birgün that that there has been an increase in the AKP government’s attacks on women’s rights and lives to design society with a religious and reactionary understanding.

She said women will never give up the fight they have been waging against the government for their rights and lives, adding that the response of opposition MPs to the new judicial package will be crucial.

In Turkey, women encounter notable inequalities. Femicides and violence against women are serious problems in the country, where women are killed, raped or beaten every day. Critics say the main reason behind the situation is the policies of the AKP government, which protects violent and abusive men by affording them impunity.

In a move that led to national and international outrage, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a presidential decree in March 2021 that pulled the country out of the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation. At the time the Turkish government said the Convention “threatened family values” and “normalizes homosexuality.”

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