On 19 December 2013 the Turkish Constitutional Court delivered what some local journalists are calling a ‘revolutionary’ judgment. The revolutionary judgment in question recognised that women indeed have the right to retain, if they so wish, their last name when they get married. Of course, in the grand scheme of women’s rights, this is far from ‘revolutionary’. It is also not trivial. A woman’s right to choose her name is the tip of the iceberg in her struggle to stand as an equal in family relationships. What it does is challenge the deep and entrenched patriarchal stereotype of the family as a unit joined under a single name – the man’s. It also emphasises the importance of name for women’s self-development – whether married or single.
The substantive advancement of women’s rights by this decision aside, the judgment also tells us a tale of the reception of international law by domestic courts. In particular, it offers us clues for comparatively studying how high courts negotiate the tension between progressive international legal commitments and, frankly, backward domestic laws tacitly backed up by the domestic legislature and executive. This is the third time (yes, indeed) that Turkey’s Constitutional Court dealt with this case – each time with identical facts (a woman asking to keep her name upon marriage) – and the second time it has done so since the European Court of Human Rights delivered a violation judgment against Turkey on the very same issue. In the first two instances, in 1998 and 2011, the Turkish Constitutional Court decided that the Civil Code which requires a woman to change her name upon marriage was not unconstitutional. In the third case, it did find it unconstitutional.