Two local residents were looking forward to sharing the rest of their lives together.
The snag is one of the Shippensburg pair can’t change her name due to the same-sex status of their marriage.
Jeannie and Dawn Nally, who tied the knot on Nov. 11, 2011, in North Bellmore, Long Island, N.Y., have been fighting to change Jeannie’s last name since the marriage, which is not recognized in Pennsylvania.
Jeannie said changing her name with her bank, Social Security and other forms of identification was easy. All that was needed was the valid marriage certificate from New York.
However, changing her name on her driver’s license has slowed the process considerably.
“We are just having difficulty getting our drivers’ license name changed,” she said. “We were married out of state, of course it’s a same-sex relationship and Pennsylvania won’t recognize the marriage, but at the same time I still need to be able to identify myself with my bank card, my Social Security card, etc.”
Jeannie said she has tried multiple times, even visiting the PennDOT headquarters in Harrisburg, to change her name on her license, but PennDOT has refused.
“Now, I know it’s not a traditional marriage, as it is same-sex, but now I am left with my name changed with everyone and no picture ID to show that I am who I say I am,” she said. “PennDOT’s position is that Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize my marriage, which I understand, but neither does the federal government. My Social Security number now associates me to my new name. I only want my drivers license to identify me with the last name I am using. What if I need to show ID at a bank to cash my paycheck?”
She described the process of changing her name with financial institutions and even Social Security as easy, needing nothing more than the marriage certificate, however her photo identification is the obstacle that has the couple has not yet been able to overcome.
“We went with our marriage certificate to the location in Harrisburg to have it changed,” she said. “We went to the window at the same time with our marriage certificate and the gentleman looked at us when I said that we needed to do it together instead of separate because we only have one marriage certificate. Of course he looked at us, and kind of, ‘Let me see the marriage certificate,’ and since it was out-of-state New York, he saw we were both female, he handed it back and said we can’t do this. ‘We don’t recognize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, so we aren’t changing it.’”
Jeannie said she tried speaking to supervisors who said the same thing, spoke to the State Department and PennDOT, all of which said it was impossible.
“He told me basically the same thing, but he said if I was able to change my passport or voter registration along with my Social Security card, they would take all those ID’s, and change it,” she said.
However in order to do that, one must have a valid state photo ID, which leads right back to the issue at hand.
Jan McKnight, community relations coordinator of PennDOT said it is possible to have the name changed, however, people must do it within PennDOT regulations.
While PennDOT would not comment on this individual situation, she did provide the regulations.
“By regulation, the department has provided various means by which you may accomplish a change of your surname,” she wrote in an email. “See 67 Pa. Code §85.1 (relating to actual name). In the absence of a court order containing a change of name as provided for in 67 Pa. Code §85.1(3), a change of surname can be accomplished by adherence to 67 Pa. Code §85.1(4). This regulation permits change of one’s surname by provision of a Social Security card and any two (2) of the following documents: (i) Tax records; (ii) Selective Service card or records; (iii) Voter registration card or records; (iv) Passport; (v) Any form of identification issued by a governmental agency which contains a photograph of the bearer; (vi) Baptismal certificate; (vii) Banking records.”
But Jeannie says she is unwilling to pay for what should be automatic.
“I am unwilling to pay in Pennsylvania, its like a $100,” Jeannie said. “I am very low income. I don’t want to have to pay to change my name, when by marriage, my name is changed,” she said. “My whole purpose in this is to be able to identify myself with my new last name.”
She said while she was able to change her name on her credit cards, if she was asked for ID at a store, she would be denied the sale because the names don’t match.
“I don’t even care if they recognize the marriage, I just want my name changed so that I can identify myself with all the agencies who have changed my name for me,” she said.
Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT rights organization in Pennsylvania, which works with the legislature to change the state’s view on marriage, says that policies like this are unequal and unfair.
“The bottom line is same-sex couples who have been together for many years who choose to marry in states outside of Pennsylvania, where it is legal, come back to Pennsylvania and find there is no recognition of their relationship,” he said. “This is not uncommon. It is an issue we have been seeing ever since the Defense of Marriage Act was signed. Not only is there a federal Defense of Marriage Act, but Pennsylvania has its own.”
He said the organization is fighting to try to change these laws, making them equal for all married couples, whether opposite or same-sex.
“It’s incredibly unfair and remarkably unequal,” he said. “If an opposite-sex couple went to New York and did the same thing, it would be automatic. But under federal and state law they are just not recognized. That is the simple frustration they are finding.”
Martin said the fault does not lie with PennDOT, which is only following the law, but with the legislature and the laws put forth.
“PennDOT is doing nothing more than following the law, which once again is incredibly unfair and incredibly unequal,” he said. “When you get married you automatically receive 1,176 automatic rights from various federal laws because of your marriage certificate. Many of those things you have to pay for as a same-sex couple, like having your name on materials that automatically come with marriage. For example, Kim Kardashian can be married for 48 days, and her husband during those 48 days basically gets all the rights and responsibilities that he would have if she passed away during that time. Same-sex couples can be married for 48 years and none of that would come, and that is the basic, unfair, ridiculous, hurtful nature of the law.”
While same-sex couples can pay to have these changed through court actions, Martin said it can be costly.
“Pennsylvania in general in how it treats is LGBT citizens does a pretty bad job,” he said. “People need to understand the inequity. Same-sex couples can be together for many, many years, and yet they have to pay a lot of money to get the same equality that everyone else gets automatically in marriage.”