December 03, 2015

The Mormon "koseki" problem

So I was writing about Angel Beats! and that got me musing about infant baptism, about the same time that the Mormon church announced that the children of gay parents would not be eligible for baptism until they were legal adults.

As my brother quipped, "And yet the child of two heterosexual Satan-worshipping prostitutes would be?"

The first thing that occurred to me was that the Mormon church had reinvented Original Sin. Hey, kids, welcome to Limbo! "Limbo" isn't official Catholic doctrine. Apparently this is.

But the bigger question is why the church even bothered. Who thought this was a problem that needed solving? What, there were maybe five people in the entire world that such a policy would have otherwise applied to (before turning it into a cause célèbre)?

It struck me as the kind of rule-making engineered by a mid-level bureaucrat who panicked one day when a hypothetical raised by a local bishop clawed its way up the chain of command and he realized that they didn't have a form to handle it.

You see, the church has a koseki problem. Cultural and religious reasons aside, one reason gay marriage has made halting progress in Japan is for the same record-keeping reason.

The koseki tohon (family register) is the official census record in Japan, and the legal equivalent of a person's birth certificate. All major life events--birth, adoption, marriage, death--are recorded in the koseki. If it's not in the koseki, it didn't legally occur.

The Japan Times explains:

People without a family registry are ineligible for passports and driver's licenses, as well as such basic but critical services as public health insurance and national pension benefits. In addition, their lack of a legally valid identity leaves them open to a multitude of other potential problems.

The koseki is a patrilineal document as well as a genealogical record. Before privacy laws were enacted, private investigators, employers, and marriage brokers could peruse any person's koseki for evidence of disreputable fruit hanging in the family tree.

With its roots in medieval Japan and its first major revision back in 1872, with public access to koseki records only being restricted in 2008, the koseki system has adjusted slowly to modern times. Consider, for example, the following:

  • When a couple marries, only one family name can appear on the koseki. Except in the case of adult adoption, the woman almost always gives up her maiden name.
  • The child of a divorced woman who gave birth before legally remarrying will be listed on her previous husband's koseki.
  • To gain custody, the child must be "abandoned" by his "legal" father and adopted by his biological father. This is one reason child adoption is rare in Japan.

Adult adoption, on the other hand, remains surprisingly common.

  • Even more bizarrely, there are circumstances where the child doesn't end up on either parent's koseki and so legally ceases to exist.

As many as 10,000 mukoseki ("no koseki") Japanese have fallen through these cracks, children of Japanese citizens but non-persons in the country of their birth.

  • And, of course, there's no effective way to deal with gay marriage, especially the child of two women (although for an eldest male, adult adoption becomes an interesting alternative).

A few progressive wards in Tokyo have carved out exceptions, but nothing approaching a national solution is on the horizon. (Keep in mind that Japan is just getting around to creating a social security numbering system and fax machines remain ubiquitous.)

So what does this have to do with the Mormon church? Unlike most faiths, the Mormon church keeps the equivalent of a koseki for every member (which is both weird and kinda scary). Like the koseki, this database is patrilineal in theology and structure.

And like the koseki, simply changing the values in a database field can't help but make a cultural statement, with a boatload of political implications in tow. Perversely, the kind of statements and implications that the Satan-worshipping prostitute avoids.

Here is where that mukoseki status serves to resolve the church's gay marriage dilemma. No koseki? The kid doesn't exist. Neither do the parents. Not our problem.

Frankly, the church should borrow from the Amish and not baptize anybody until they're eighteen. Oh, and I'd tell the Japan census bureau that the clarity of the Jewish matrilineal system has much to recommend for it.

Related posts

Angle Beats!
The hidden reason for the policy change
The koseki system in The Twelve Kingdoms

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# posted by Blogger Joe
12/05/2015 10:57 AM   
Putting aside the obvious bigotry angle, I now wonder if you're on to something. If the child of same-sex parents is blessed, the parents' names go on the official record. But whose name goes where? And once you have a record with two daddies or two mommies doesn't that officially recognize the same-sex relationship?

Of course, there is a similar problem with non-married parents, but the church did well by pretending that never happens. It would seem then, that the mistake the church made was recognizing homosexuality in the first place. Had they simply pretended there was no such thing, then there wouldn't be a problem. (This is the Victorian approach--oh, those two men are roommates. Nothing to see here, move along. Similar to the "as long as someone claims parentage, we'll pretend an affair wasn't involved in the producing this offspring.")
# posted by Blogger Katherine Woodbury
12/10/2015 11:53 AM   
In my reading of yaoi manga, I've encountered a common solution to "gay marriage" in Japan: one male adopts the other! Hey, maybe there's a solution here--the church could adopt the children!--except that I get the impression from my reading that adoption in Western culture has more emotional ramifications than in Japanese culture. It is referenced so casually in the manga I read (okay, okay, it's fiction) that I'm reminded of Jane Austen's brother being adopted by a rich family: a deliberate, logical move "up" if there ever was one.

Is Japan that similar to 19th century England? Or not?
# posted by Blogger Katherine Woodbury
12/10/2015 12:28 PM   
Tangent: Because a similarity to 19th century England specifically and British culture generally would explain the success of 19th century texts in Japan! In What Did You Eat Yesterday? Kenji is shocked that his boyfriend Shiro--who loves to cook--doesn't know what "brownies" are. "Haven't you seen Anne of Green Gables?" he exclaims. "When Anne and Marilla make brownies?"
# posted by Blogger Eugene
12/10/2015 12:53 PM   
More than a few Japanese leaders in the mid-to-late 19th century were unabashed Anglophiles. The same way linguists argue that Elizabethan English is more likely to be found today in the Appalachians, Japan has perhaps preserved the Regency/Victorian social order better than Great Britain (including accouterments such as the morning coat).

Some of those old-fashioned customs, after all, just make sense. As the saying goes, "You can't choose your sons, but you can choose your sons-in-law."
# posted by Anonymous Cicero
1/06/2016 7:24 PM   
Rather than assuming some low level bureaucrat implemented this, it is almost certain that this question was raised at the highest level of the church, and the decision was made by the First Presidency.

Perhaps you should consider the official church response to questions, which points to the example of children of polygamous marriages as being treated in exactly the same manner.

Exactly the same.

Why? What could they have in common?

Well the obvious is that both touch on marriage. However, more likely driving this result is that both situations threaten faction and splintering, and the theft of the Lord's House by His enemies.

Without strict exclusion of children of polygamous marriages, the LDS church could face a risk of a segment of members breaking off to from their own church and then claiming that they are legally entitled to church property (such as a temple). (This is already happening to other Christian sects - in both directions).

Similarly, if the children of gay married couples were allowed to be members before they reject the concept of gay marriage (something that can be done only after they reach the age of majority), at least one gay couple will almost certainly file a lawsuit demanding that they be allowed to participate in their child's religious activities. Demanding that they be allowed to baptize their child, or to attend a temple wedding. A possible outcome would be for the church to lose control over all the temples inside the United States.

Paranoia you say? Impossible you say? Can't happen here?

Yet it has happened here to the church before. Twice.

First in the court matter of the succession to Joseph Smith, and secondly in the seizure of the Salt Lake Temple by the federal government after the Civil War. (Yes, the church managed to get it back, but only after decades of resistance, and capitulation on the subject of polygamy.)

Both outcomes caused by political opposition to polygamy. Both outcomes declared as Constitutional by the Supreme Court - bluntly because the Mormons were on the wrong side of the political powers. Which we obviously are again.

Additionally, the gay movement has a pattern of using legal action to destroy those it considers as opposing the acceptance of sodomy. Both before and after the legalization of gay marriage. I mean, we just saw them throw a woman in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses - in direct violation of the law which forbids judges from imprisoning elected officials. Elected officials have to be impeached first. (This is so that unelected judges cannot impose their will on elected officials in opposition to the will of the general population.)

Even if you think Kim Davis was wrong in refusing to issue the marriage licenses (which I do), the act of imprisoning her was shocking and terrifying. The court should have referenced her to the state legislature for impeachment. Instead it acted extra-legally - and got away with it.

Now it is true that the current Supreme Court would almost certainly not support seizing the church temples. But can you be certain that the court in 20 years won't? In fact, there is probably already 2 to 3 votes on the court right now to support the seizure of church property.

The prophet and the apostles must plan for these dangers, and avoid them. It is unfortunate that individual children must suffer, but it would not be happening if the gay movement wasn't so insistent on the destruction of God's plan for marriage, and the destruction of His church (and they are - go read the comments section on one of their websites sometime, they openly argue that raising children in the Mormon Church should be treated as child abuse - as in grounds for the state to take away children from their parents).