Tennessee officials won’t let same-sex couples married in other states change a name on a driver’s license unless they get a court order, a procedure that typically costs $150 to $200, reports The Tennessean. And this may be another basis for a pending lawsuit to require recognition of same-sex marriages within Tennessee.
There are two potential legal arguments, said Steven Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor specializing in civil liberties. One is that the Tennessee ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause — state laws can’t discriminate. The other is that it violates the constitution’s full faith and credit clause, which says states must respect the judgment of other states.
As more Tennessee couples travel to New York, California and 11 other states, plus Washington, D.C., to legalize their unions, frustrations over roadblocks at home are increasing.
People can use their marriage certificates to change their names on various forms of federal ID, such as Social Security cards and passports. They’re easily using married names on credit cards and other financial documents. But when they go to change them on their driver’s license or other state documents, their marriage certificates aren’t enough.
“I went into Cookeville for my new Social Security card using my marriage certificate, and they said I should have it in four days to two weeks,” said Byrdstown resident Neil Stovall, who wants to become Neil Irby after his Aug. 17 wedding in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Harry Irby. “But what about the name on my driver’s license? My concealed handgun carry permit? To me, they’re denying me my constitutional right to happiness. The state government seems to have a problem with it when no one else does.”
Rockford resident Gwen Castro, who is Gwen Schablik on her New York marriage certificate, went to three driver’s license centers in Knox and Blount counties hoping to find a sympathetic worker the way a friend had. She didn’t.
“At that point, the rejection had gotten to me,” she said. “I went outside. I was just crying. My wife never came in with me, she was waiting in the car because we didn’t want to draw any attention.”
It’s impossible to count how many gay couples marry elsewhere and make their homes in Tennessee, but a University of California, Los Angeles study of 2010 census data puts the figure near 2,000. The number could be significantly higher with the DOMA ruling and more states granting same-sex marriages.
Without a driver’s license name that agreed with the one on his Social Security card, Oak Ridge resident Jeremy May — who married his husband two years ago in Washington, D.C. — wasn’t able to take a drug test for a much-needed job working with children with autism. He was turned away from the license bureau in Clinton, Tenn., Tuesday when he went in with his marriage certificate.
By Thursday, he’d filled out paperwork for a legal name change and filed it at the Anderson County courthouse for $179.50. By 10 a.m. Friday, May had already successfully represented himself in a five-minute appearance before a judge, received his court-ordered name change and gone back to the license bureau, where the same employee he encountered before tried to reject him even with the order. A co-worker corrected the man, and May had his temporary driver’s license a few minutes later.