When heterosexual couples get married, 80 to 95 percent of those marrying for the first time adjust their name accordingly. Usually, the bride takes her husband’s last name. The process includes ordering extra copies of the marriage license, requesting a new Social Security card, visiting the department of motor vehicles for a new license, and completing an application for an amended Passport.

A name change is a lot of work for a simple tradition. It’s a societal norm, expected of most brides. But why?

The tradition is rooted in a history of patriarchy and sexist symbolism, signifying the woman’s changed ownership from father to husband. Nowadays, in a society where women are not owned by the men they associate with, why should brides carry on the tradition? While some newlyweds consider the implications of a name change, most go ahead with it anyway.

Name changes after marriage are hard for heterosexual couples, and they’re even harder for gay couples. In states that don’t allow same-sex marriage or civil unions, gay couples can’t use a marriage certificate to get their name changed. Instead, they’re forced to go through an in-court name change process. They have to pay a fee to file a court petition, publish a notice in a newspaper, and get a court order to officially change their name. After which, they still have to go through the work of changing their other documents, including their Social Security card, Passport, and driver’s license.

Some may question why gay couples — who are already in a nontraditional relationship — would choose to follow a tradition rooted in sexism. Aside from the obnoxiously difficult process required for same-sex couples to change a last name, is it really a process that can benefit gay couples?

In my opinion, it can have its benefits. A name change can allow others to recognize a same-sex relationship as valid, and to allow heterosexuals to relate to the idea of same-sex marriages. It’s an easy way for same-sex couples to be more understood as married in emergencies. And a name change can be an added way to express the union of two people.

The decision to change a last name after marriage has its advantages and disadvantages for straight and gay couples alike. But as long as gay marriage isn’t recognized in many states, the process will be unfairly difficult and expensive for gay couples.

Photo credit: soa2002

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