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national | REPORTS

Changing His Name
Why can't a husband freely take his wife's surname?

When New Yorkers Elizabeth Batton and Garrett Sorenson married last August, they wanted to adopt each other’s last name as a second surname, making them the Batton Sorensons. But there was no option on their marriage license application to do so. Elizabeth could easily change her surname to Sorenson, or to Batton-Sorenson, but for a man to adopt his wife’s name is another story.

That’s because although New York is one of only six states in the U.S. that recognize a statutory right for men to take their wives’ last name, the couple married in Kentucky, where no such law exists. Under most states’ laws, if a man wants to take his wife’s name he must petition the court, advertise in a newspaper and pay hundreds of dollars in fees. A woman needs only to fill out a marriage license application.

California could soon become the seventh equitable name-change state, if a bill from state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma is successful. It would give married spouses and domestic partners equal opportunity to take their surname of choice. “It’s about equality in relationships,” Ma says about the proposal, which would also change gender-biased language in current marriage statutes.

Backing the bill are several ACLU California chapters and the LGBT advocacy group Equality California. Last December, the ACLU of Southern California filed suit on behalf of Diana Bijon and Michael Buday, a married couple who wanted to take Bijon as their last name but ran into similar roadblocks. The lawsuit brought a lot of attention to the name-change problem, says Ma, who has since received many calls from men who are in similar situations to Buday.

Batton says her name is important to her, but so is her husband’s; the two last names would represent the joining of two families: “We associate ourselves with the things we call ourselves. It’s an important part of our identity.”