Bill would end double standard on name changes

The measure, AB102, would require applications for marriage licenses and certificates of registered domestic partnerships to include a line for name change for all parties...But if the bill by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, becomes law, Californ

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When Kinna Patel and Ashle Crocker exchanged their vows and registered as domestic partners in September, the lesbian couple also decided to have the same last name for their new family.

Patel, who wanted to change her last name to Crocker, had to jump through a series of legal hoops, take out a newspaper ad announcing the pending change of her name, and pay hundreds of dollars in fees to legally become Kinna Crocker.

"And it's a good thing I'm an attorney. If I had to hire a lawyer, it would have cost thousands more," said Crocker, of Sacramento. "Still, I would much rather have wanted to spend my $700 plus my time on something else."

Women who get married to men, by contrast, can change their last names simply by checking off a box on the marriage certificate application. A bill pending in the state Legislature would extend that right to domestic partners such as the Crockers and to marrying men.

The measure, AB102, would require applications for marriage licenses and certificates of registered domestic partnerships to include a line for name change for all parties.

Seven other states -- Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota -- allow a man to take on his new spouse's family name.

But if the bill by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, becomes law, California would be the first state to allow domestic partners to have that same right. The issue has been a point of contention among many conservative groups, who argue that the legislation is another step toward legally recognizing same-sex marriage.

While same-sex marriages are not legal in California, the state began recognizing domestic partnerships in 2000. To qualify, couples must either be the same sex or one partner must be at least 62 years old. Domestic partnership is not legal among more than two people, and they cannot also be legally married to anyone else.

"We think this is just another way for domestic partners to get the privilege of marriage without actually marrying," said Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute. "It's just another incremental move to equate homosexual marriage with traditional marriage."

Although the bill passed the Assembly in a 46-26 vote this month, opponents such as England are hoping the legislation will have a tougher time gaining support in the more moderate state Senate, where the Judiciary Committee will hear the bill in a few weeks.

In the Assembly, the vote was largely along party lines, with most Republican lawmakers voting against the bill. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill.

"Name change is a big, symbolic, important step for a marrying man and a woman. And it's one of the longest held traditions for the woman to take the name of her husband's family. ... I just don't see any hard, compelling reason to change that," said Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Costa Mesa (Orange County).

But Ma argued that her bill isn't about just same-sex couples but is about giving everyone the same ease of access in changing their legal names that marrying women have.

"It's about equality, getting with the times," she said.

A part of that has to do with men wanting to either adopt their wives' names or, in the case of Thomas Howard and his fiancee, Tess Cain, creating a new family name.

After a seven-year engagement, the north Santa Cruz County couple are planning to officially tie the knot in the fall. But one of the difficulties they're facing in preparing for the wedding is changing their last names to Summerfield.

The couple made that decision because both were adopted as young children and didn't feel connected to the families that raised them.

"In a nutshell, it comes down to neither of us are really attached to our last names. So this seems like a good point, naturally, to change it, because this is when people change their names to create new families and new identities," said Howard, 35, an engineer at Cisco Systems.

So Cain came up with Summerfield, and Howard decided to go along with that idea. But all Cain has to do is to note the change in the marriage license application, while Howard will have to embark on the much longer legal process.

"It's a double standard," he said.

Both Howard and Cain said they hope AB102 will become law, making 2007 that much more memorable for the couple.

"Tess and I would love to have a family, just with this new name," he said. "I don't understand why the government makes it so hard. Just collect your taxes, and move on."