Bill Gives Domestic Partners, Married Spouses Equal Opportunity to Take Surname of Choice

Sacramento – Equality California (EQCA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, Southern California and San Diego & Imperial Counties announced today the joint sponsorship of a bill that would allow domestic partners and married spouses equal opportunity, regardless of gender, to change their surnames upon marriage or domestic partnership registration.

AB 102, introduced on Jan. 3 by Assemblymember Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, specifies that all Californians have the right to select a surname of their choice when they marry or enter into a domestic partnership. The legislation also requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a new driver’s license or identification card with the new, chosen name upon presentation of a marriage license or certificate of domestic partnership. Six states currently recognize this naming right.

“This bill ensures that the rules regarding changing surnames apply to all Californians equally, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “Under current law, registered domestic partners must go through a lengthy and costly court process in order to change their names. Whether they are married or registered as domestic partners, all committed couples should have the same right to take a new surname.”

California’s current domestic partnership laws do not address the issue of taking a new surname, and the state’s marriage applications only give female spouses the option to take the husband’s surname.

The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) highlighted this disparity last December when it asked a federal court in Los Angeles to update California law to allow a husband to take his wife’s last name by simply stating it on a marriage application.

“AB 102 removes sex discrimination embedded in our laws that makes the family name of a married couple the exclusive province of the husband,” said ACLU/SC Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum. “It takes California marriage laws out of the dark ages by abolishing the state’s veto over couples’ naming choices. Deciding what’s in a name is the province of committed couples, not the state.”

The ACLU/SC and the law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy filed suit on behalf of Michael Buday and his wife Diana Bijon, who wanted to extend the Bijon family name into another generation. A county clerk, the DMV and state records office denied Buday’s name change request on the couple’s marriage applications, leaving them the only option of paying court fees totaling more than $300.

“I believe in a future where all Californians have equal rights,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Ma. “This bill is a first step towards recognizing that both partners in a committed relationship have equal rights.”

AB 102 is expected to be heard in Assembly committees this March.

Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Please visit their website for more details.