Same-Sex Weddings and Last Names: To Change, or Not to Change?

Danto Photography

Legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages has sparked numerous practical debates, including the age old dilemma, “should I change my name when I marry, or not?” All couples, whether straight or gay, contend with the benefits and drawbacks or maintaining ones identity by keeping a last name, or demonstrating unity by changing it. Gay couples, however, have a few extra considerations before a decision is made.

Legal Recognition and Name Changes

In theory, changing your name to your spouse’s last name should be a straightforward process executed with the appropriate paperwork at the time you wed. Organizations like state departments of motor vehicles and the Social Security Administration have processes in place for marriage-related name changes, and with proof of your legal union, you should be able to follow the same instructions that any married couple does if you choose to change your name. In practice, however, there are still folks in some regions who are either unaware of or unwilling to comply with the law. In these cases, according to do-it-yourself legal resource, NOLO’s legal encyclopedia, you should pursue your request up the chain of command until you find a person in power who better understands current same-sex marriage law. It is an unfair challenge, but one you should be prepared to fight if you feel strongly about your right to change your name.

Maintaining Your Personal Identity

For some, changing a last name feels like a loss of personal identity. It may also feel like a sign of possession. Be sensitive to your spouse’s feelings on the matter, and realize that not changing ones name can having nothing at all to do with his or her depth of love for you. Many people, including those who have earned designations and titles such as “Dr.”, simply feel an attachment to their surname that goes beyond tradition. Consider all of your options. You may choose to take one spouse’s name. Alternatively, one or both of you might hyphenate your last names, and of course, you may both choose to be married, yet keep your own names. If this is a source of conflict in your relationship, talk to each other openly about your reasons for wanting, or not wanting, to have the same last name. Discuss whether your future children will use one of your names or a combination of both. Listen to each other’s concerns, and know that this is only one of many tough choices you will make together – set the precedent now for loving, open communication and mutual decision making. 

The Luxury of “No Rules”

For all of the challenges still facing same-sex couples, one advantage is that the institution of gay and lesbian marriage is still in its relative infancy. You have the freedom to conform to the traditions of straight unions or forge your own path and write the traditions for tomorrow’s couples. Ultimately, make a mutual decision that feels right to both of you.

Photo Courtesy of Danto Photography

S. Walker is a freelance writer for GayWeddings.com.