The name game

The ACLU has championed a fight to make it easier for a husband to take his wife's last name.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 10, 2007 5:40PM (EST)

As Michael Buday saw it, the road to matrimonial bliss was a nontraditional one that included taking on his wife's last name, reports the Feminist Daily News Wire. Problem is, according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, in California men are required to pay upward of $300, file a court petition and advertise their name change for a month in the local newspaper; a woman, in contrast, can change her name through marriage by simply paying a $50 to $80 filing fee. Buday also says he was ridiculed when he tried to legally take his wife's last name at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The suit, filed Dec. 15 in Los Angeles, complains: "No important governmental objectives exist in making this classification between men and women. Rather, the unequal treatment is nothing more than the mechanical application of traditional, inaccurate assumptions about the proper roles of men and women." Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, told ABC News, "California has the perfect marriage application for the 17th century. The laws reflect a mind-set that the wife is to be subordinate to the husband," he said. "At every junction, the message is 'select the name of the husband.'"

Only Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota enable men and women to change their names through marriage with equal ease, according to ABC News. But, inspired by the ACLU lawsuit, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma of San Francisco has introduced a measure that would allow either spouse to change his or her last name on the couple's marriage license.

I'll keep my celebration brief -- my hyphenated last name already gives away my stance on nontraditional approaches to the marriage name game. (In fairness, it was actually my hippie parents who decided on my surname; they each kept their respective last names and lobbed them together to create a new one for me.) I have no real beef with women choosing to take on their husband's last name. But, naturally, leveling out the name-changing playing field would help relieve some feminists' queasiness at the continuing pressure for women to take their spouse's last name. Not to mention that under the current system, it seems that men who might like to take another name are getting an awfully raw deal. Now that the inequity is being addressed, a little fanfare is in order: Woo-hoo!


Tracy Clark-Flory

MORE FROM Tracy Clark-FloryFOLLOW TracyClarkFloryLIKE Tracy Clark-Flory


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Love And Sex