After moving back to Texas because of family illness, the last thing this couple wanted was an argument with the DMV over what their real name is
When moving to Texas because of an illness in the family, the last thing anyone wants — or needs — is an argument with the Department of Public Safety over their legal name. But that’s exactly what happened to Bridget and Kathy Hanson.
Bridget and Kathy were married in Iowa in 2010 and lived in Illinois. When they moved to Dallas in 2012 because of family illness, they went to the DPS in Rockwall to get Texas driver’s licenses. All Bridget had to show was her marriage license to prove her name change. On federal documents, like her social security card, her name was already changed.
After Kathy’s father and brother died, she and her wife moved back to Illinois, once again changing their driver’s licenses. But this year, because Kathy’s mother was still having a hard time handling her losses, Kathy and Bridget moved back to Texas.
This time the DPS wasn’t as understanding when it came time to change their driver’s licenses again. Bridget showed her insurance and vehicle registration. Both showed the name Hanson. The officer asked for her marriage license.
“It’s a same-sex marriage license,” Bridget told the officer. “Are you going to accept it?”
“Absolutely not,” the officer replied, in a tone Kathy described as rude.
After being rejected in Rockwall, Bridget went to Garland, where the scene was repeated.
If the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling requiring all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, things should change for the Hansons. Their marriage license should be recognized.
Notice that says should, not will. Just because the state begins issuing marriage licenses, that doesn’t mean an officer at the DPS will recognize those licenses.
When Bridget and Kathy asked why Bridget was issued a driver’s license in her married name during their previous Texas residency, they were were told it was a mistake. “Mistake”? Or something done quietly at a time marriage equality wasn’t in the news and expected to come to Texas at any minute?
This wasn’t the first time they had trouble changing names on Bridget’s driver’s license. When they were first married in 2010, Bridget changed the name on her social security card first. Then she went to the Department of Motor Vehicles near their home in Illinois. She was denied there, too — Illinois was not yet a marriage equality state.
When the clerk realized the reason for a name change was a same-sex marriage, she conferred with a supervisor and they declined to issue a new driver’s license with her new name.
Bridget followed up by contacting the Illinois secretary of state’s office. Chicago’s LGBT newspaper Windy City Times got involved that time.
The secretary of state’s office told the newspaper, “Illinois doesn’t honor gay marriage. … It’s not legal [here].”
After several calls, a spokesman said the marriage license and social security change satisfied the state’s requirement for a legal name change and Bridget received her Illinois driver’s license in her married name.
Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney Ken Upton said he expects that even with a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, there will be a period in Texas during which some people in government will claim they don’t know what to do.
“There’ll be this awkward period,” he said. “I think this period will be relatively short.”
He said Texas might try to delay recognizing marriages by claiming there’s still a stay in place. The simple solution is to go back to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who issued the ruling striking down the
Texas marriage amendment but also staying his own ruling, to lift the stay once the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
Someone at the Department of Public Safety might claim they weren’t party to the federal ruling so it doesn’t apply to them, or they’re waiting for instructions. Upton said his office can help that process along.
Government officials who refuse to comply with a court ruling can be held personally liable for damages caused. Upton thinks that as officials realize that, they’ll be more willing to comply.
But he also said to cut some agencies some slack.
If someone is denied a service, he said, “Look at the why.”
If the official says they’re planning to comply and are waiting as the software is updated or a new form is arriving later in the week, that may be an inconvenience, but it’s not a willful attempt to disregard an order by the U.S. Supreme Court.
If an office decides they’re not going to comply until they’re specifically told to do so, his office will intervene and make sure the person who needs to will try once more to get her Texas driver’s license issued in her legal name. She plans to go to the Rockwall DPS, look for the same officer who rudely refused her and when asked for her marriage license, she’ll hand it over — along with a printed copy of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling.
Should that office refuse to issue her a license with the correct name, her next call will be Lambda Legal.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2015.