Dan and I have been offered jobs in Maryland, which has spurred a few important discussion in our home. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in Maryland, and same-sex marriage is legal in a few close-by areas including Massachusetts and Washington D.C. This brings up questions about our last names: What should we do — hyphenate? Pick one of our last names? Or take a completely new last name?
After a little research I learned it’s not quite that easy for same-sex couples to change their last names after marriage. Having the same last name might make it easier if one of us were ever admitted to a hospital; having a hyphenated last name might make it more likely for us to face discrimination, and having different last names will definitely not help in that situation. One gay couple took on the same last name so they could tell hospital workers they are sisters (in case one of them is ever hospitalized).
Reports from couples online suggest name changes for gays and lesbians are pretty impractical when dealing with government documents on a federal level and often involves stressful court appearances.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was about to become a Palladino! But what if this judge took one look at me and decided to take my very small but important right away, when I barely have any to stand on as it is, when it comes to my marriage with Maria? I was petrified. My name was called, and I had to go before the judge. He was a mere two feet away from my face as he hummed along to a strange tune while he read through my statement.”
One couple reported their passport applications were denied; they had to go to court and explain the reasons why they wanted to change their names. As part of that process they had to publish their intent to change their names in a local newspaper once each week for four weeks: the same thing other people have to do if they want to change their name if that process doesn’t involve marriage. The couple reported “the process was long and an unnecessary reminder that things aren’t exactly equal.”
But what’s in a name? Why would we want to change our names? To me it’s a symbol of a union and a public declaration that we’re establishing our own family and a future together. Because same-sex marriage isn’t recognized on a federal level, it’s the closest thing to marriage we can do to make some kind of official, public declaration of our union and commitment. To all the straight couples out there, you’re lucky the process is a little more simple. I hope for a future time when it’s more simple for gay couples to change their last names, a time when the process is equal.
Whether gay or straight, what was your experience like when you changed your last name (including decisions leading up to the change of name)?