Since 1998, the Dutch Law of Names stipulates that if married couples (or registered partners) do not agree on the choice of the surname of their child, the civil registry will register the name of the father (or co-mother). This so-called "safety-net-provision" is a textbook example of unequal treatment and direct sex discrimination.
In the newspaper article, I explain that my husband and I decided to give my surname to our daughter (we both kept our own surname when we got married). However, in order to be able to do this, we had to go to the municipality before I gave birth to sign a document stating that the unborn child will get my surname. In other words: my husband had to sign - and thus give permission! On the other hand: after I would have given birth, my husband could go to the municipality without me (or my permission) to give his surname to our baby. I am lucky to have an emancipated husband and we both agreed on the surname. But what if we had not agreed? Then our daughter would have automatically received her father's surname...
The CEDAW Committee has expressed for many years it's concern that this Law of Names contravenes the Convention (more specifically Art. 16g), but the Dutch government didn't take any action... Even more so, there is currently a draft bill to amend the Law of Names to include the option to give double surnames to a child. This is a very nice development and an excellent opportunity - one would think - to also include an amendment to change the 'safety-net'. Therefore, in the article I propose a gender-neutral option: If parents cannot agree on the surname of the child? Then both surnames in alphabetical order will be registered.
Cases in Italy and Belgium
Recently, the Constitutional Court in Italy has ruled that if a child automatically receives the surname of the father is 'discriminatory and detrimental to identity'. The ruling of the court stipulates that a baby will now be given the name of both parents - in an order agreed by them - unless the parents both agree to give one of their names. Similarly, the Constitutional Court in Belgium ordered the federal legislator to change a law (similar to the law proposed in our Parliament now) in 2016 because it was discriminatory against women.
We wrote the article as the Working Group 'Law of Names' of the Association for Women and Law Clara Wichmann. We are fighting this deeply rooted idea that people should preferably not be given the surname of their mother. After the article was published, we received many responses. It was great to see that so many people had read the article and also responded - either my e-mail, phone or in a letter that was published in the newspaper a (few) day(s) later. This was exactly our goal: raising awareness, contribute to the current debate and try to change the status quo.