The Legal Name Change Journey of Jeannie and Dawn Nally
Until Same-Sex Marriage is Fully Legal, at Least Couples Can Go To Court for a Legal Name Change. This way, same-sex legal name change can be achieved regardless of the obstacles of law in some US jurisdictions. That doesn’t make it easy. But, it makes it possible for those who are determined.
Jeannie got married in 2011 but wasn’t allowed to take her spouse’s last name. She was able to change her name with her bank, many accounts and even Social Security. But, she couldn’t get a driver’s license to match without a court order or other documentation even more elaborate than that. Why? Because she and her spouse live in Pennsylvania where same sex marriage isn’t legal. Not fair, but true in early 2014 America.
There are 4 main ways that most couples handle their respective married names nowadays:
1) Both spouses keep their own family name
2) Each spouse takes a hyphenated form of both their last names
3) One spouse takes the other’s family name
4) Both spouses take a mash-up of both last names for their married name
Same-Sex Legal Name Change – The Laws in 2011
This Pennsylvania couple had decided that Jeannie would take Dawn’s last name and they were thrilled and excited, the way newlyweds get.
Jeannie and Dawn Nally got married November 11, 2011 in Long Island, N.Y. It wasn’t legal for them to be married where they lived in Shippensburg, Pa. If it were legal in Pennsylvania, they presumably could have had Jeannie’s Name Changed through the marriage license process. That’s the way heterosexual couples do it everyday all over the 50 states, and without extensive time or added expense.
Just one of the irritants (certainly not the biggest one) connected with the embattled state of same-sex marriage acceptance in the United States today, is that the committed couple isn’t allowed to share a family name without going through other processes. Jeannie couldn’t take the last name “Nally”, officially, without doing something beyond getting married. Usually, where same-sex marriage isn’t legal, couples can use the state court where they live to get Legal Name Change, or forego sharing last names in certain government and official uses.
Same-Sex Legal Name Change – ID and Official Records Problems
And, not having a photo identification, such as a current driver’s license, that shows your name to match your credit card…is a problem. A big problem! Try it for a week if you don’t think so. At first, Jeannie just wanted her spouse’s last name…but soon, she just wanted reliable I.D. She was denied a Pennsylvania driver’s license in her married name because her marriage certificate was from another state and Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. It didn’t matter that she had bank and Social Security account documentation in her new married name.
According to Jan McKnight, community relations coordinator for PennDOT, the agency that issues driver’s licenses in Pennsylvania, Jeannie can get a driver’s license in her married name if she complies with PennDOT regulations:
In the absence of a court order containing a change of name as provided for in 67 Pa. Code §85.1(3), a change of surname can be accomplished by adherence to 67 Pa. Code §85.1(4). This regulation permits change of one’s surname by provision of a Social Security card and any two (2) of the following documents: (i) Tax records; (ii) Selective Service card or records; (iii) Voter registration card or records; (iv) Passport; (v) Any form of identification issued by a governmental agency which contains a photograph of the bearer; (vi) Baptismal certificate; (vii) Banking records.
This is a lengthy way of saying Catch-22; Jeannie can’t get the identification she needs without having the identification she needs. It’s not fair. It’s a blatant double standard. But it’s the common experience of a whole lot of same-sex couples in all the states where same-sex marriage is still not legal.
Same-Sex Legal Name Change – Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way
This second-class citizen status is slowly but measurably changing throughout our country. Until then, many same-sex couples, married and not-married, have used Legal Name Change, a Court Order Petition process, to get most of this type of shared-name/identification documents problem solved. Jeannie Nally says she shouldn’t have to incur those costs that her heterosexual counterparts don’t have to pay. True.
The filing costs for Legal Name Change, which is a process available in every state through the courts, can be waived by the court based on a showing of economic hardship. Unless otherwise disqualified, every same-sex partner or couple can file an Application or Petition for Name Change in their local court and get an official Court Order establishing their New Name as their Legal Name. With that kind of Court Order, Jeannie (and every other person in Jeannie’s spot) can get their Name Legally Changed in a way that every government agency will honor.
When people get married and want to share last names, they ought to be able to. Until a one-step marriage certificate change is available, this two-step process using Name Change Court Orders gives same-sex couples the comfort of sharing names as they go about the larger task of sharing lives together. Court ordered Name Change for same-sex couples isn’t the best way to go about it, but it’s available now…and it works.