Colorado issued same-sex marriage licenses from June 25, 2014, to July 18, 2014, and
again beginning on October 6, 2014. Should SSA accept marriage documents reflecting
that a same-sex marriage occurred during these time-periods as evidence of a name
Yes. SSA should accept marriage documents reflecting that a Colorado same-sex marriage
occurred between June 25, 2014, and July 18, 2014, as evidence of a name change event.
SSA should also accept marriage documents reflecting that a Colorado same-sex marriage
occurred on October 6, 2014, and thereafter as evidence of a name change event.
On June 25 and July 18, 2014, respectively, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed
district court decisions finding that Utah’s and Oklahoma’s bans on same-sex marriage
were unconstitutional. See Kitchen v. Herbert, 755 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir. 2014) (Utah); Bishop v. United States, 760 F.3d 1070 (10th Cir. 2014) (Oklahoma). The Court imposed stays in both cases
pending appeal. Even so, some Colorado counties began issuing same sex-marriage licenses
based on the Tenth Circuit’s decisions in these cases. (Because Colorado is within
the Tenth Circuit, these decisions are binding precedent for Colorado.)
On July 23, 2014, a federal district court judge issued an injunction to prevent Colorado
from enforcing laws that banned same-sex marriage. See Burns v. Hickenlooper, 2014 WL 3634834 (D. Colo. July 23, 2014).
During this time, same-sex marriage cases were also pending in Colorado state courts.
On July 9, 2014, a state court judge held in consolidated cases from two counties
(Adams and Denver) that Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
See Brinkman v. Long, No. 13-cv-32572 (Colo. Dist. Ct. July 9, 2014). The judge immediately imposed a stay of that decision, but later declined the State’s
motion to stop counties from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. See Brinkman, No. 13-cv-32572 (Dist. Ct. July 14, 2014). The State appealed, and on July 18, 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered clerks
to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. See Brinkman v. Long, No. 2014SA212 (Colo. July 18, 2014).
Separate litigation involving Boulder County also ensued during July 2014, ultimately
resulting in an order that the clerk stop issuing licenses. See Colorado v. Hall, 2014CV30833 (Colo. Dist. Ct. July 10, 2014) (order denying injunction to stop marriage
licenses from being issued) ; Colorado v. Hall, No. 2014CA1368 (Colo. Ct. App. July 24, 2014) (order denying motion to stay issuance
of same-sex marriage licenses) ; Colorado v. Hall, No. 2014SC5852 (Colo. July 29, 2014) (staying clerk from issuing marriage licenses).
On October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals in
Kitchen and Bishop, letting stand the Tenth Circuit’s decisions that Utah’s and Oklahoma’s bans on same-sex
marriage were unconstitutional. See Herbert v. Kitchen, 135 S. Ct. 265 (2014); Smith v. Bishop, 135 S. Ct. 271 (2014). The same day, the Tenth Circuit lifted the previously imposed
stays in Kitchen and Bishop, see Herbert v. Kitchen, 2014 WL 4960471 (10th Cir. 2014); Bishop v. Smith, 2014 WL 4960523 (10th Cir. 2014), and counties in Colorado resumed issuing same-sex
marriage licenses. The Colorado Supreme Court later dismissed the State’s appeal in
Brinkman, see Brinkman, No. 2014SA212 (Colo. Oct. 7, 2014), and the federal district court made permanent the Burns injunction against enforcing any ban on same-sex marriage, see Burns, 2014 WL 5312541 (D. Colo. Oct. 17, 2014).
Additionally, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples
may exercise the fundamental right to marry under the United States Constitution.
See Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2604-05 (2015). The Court held State laws constitutionally invalid
to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms
and conditions as opposite-sex couples. Id. at 2605. The Court also reasoned that having required all States to marry same-sex
couples, “[i]t follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there
is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed
in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.” Id. at 2607-08.
For SSA to process a name change, the applicant must submit evidence of: (1) a name-change
event; (2) the new name; and (3) the number holder’s identity as shown on the latest
Numident record. See POMS RM 10212.015. This opinion focuses only on the first evidentiary requirement, the name change
event. See POMS RM 10212.010. SSA policy requires SSA to “[a]ccept same-sex marriage documents validly issued
within the 50 U.S. States . . . . which permits ceremonial same-sex marriage as evidence
of a name change.” POMS RM 10212.035.
Pursuant to section D of POMS RM 10212.035, when a state legalizes same-sex marriage, the Regional Office should obtain a legal
opinion from the Regional Chief Counsel requesting the following information, which
we discuss below:
the date the State will begin issuing marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex
whether the State permits parties to the same-sex marriage to change their names based
on the marriage;
any change to the status of prior or new civil union or domestic partnership entered
into in the same State; and
whether a prior entered civil union and domestic partnership must be dissolved before
entering into a same-sex marriage.
The date the State will begin issuing marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex
Colorado issued same-sex marriage licenses between June 25, 2014 and July 18, 2014,
and again beginning on October 6, 2014.
2. Whether the State permits parties to the same-sex marriage to change their names
based on the marriage.
Colorado permits parties to change their names based on marriage. In general, Colorado
allows an individual to change his or her name as long as he or she follows the procedural
requirements and the court determines the name change “would be proper and not detrimental
to the interests of any other person.” See Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-15-101(2)(a). With regard to whether marriage documents
support a request for a name change, the Colorado marriage statutes do not directly
address the issue. See Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-2-101, et. seq. However, Colorado does accept marriage certificates and civil union certificates
as proof of a name change for the purpose of changing the name on an individual’s
driver’s license. See https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv/change-your-name (last visited Feb. 16, 2017). These rules do not specifically refer to same-sex marriages.
However, the court decisions discussed above hold that there is no legal distinction
between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples with respect to marriage. Therefore,
SSA should accept as evidence of a name change event same-sex marriage documents for
marriages that occurred in Colorado between June 25, 2014, and July 18, 2014, and
on October 6, 2014, and thereafter.
3. Any change to the status of prior or new civil union or domestic partnership entered
into in the same State.
Since May 2013, Colorado law has allowed couples to enter into civil unions regardless
of gender. See Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-15-101, et. seq. As discussed above, Colorado initially began allowing same-sex marriage by virtue
of judicial, rather than legislative action. However, on June 8, 2016, the governor
signed into law legislation clarifying that any civil union between the same two parties
who later marry is automatically “merged” into the marriage, and that the “civil union
terminates as of the date of the solemnization of the marriage.” See S.B. 16-150, 70th Gen. Assemb., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2016); Colo. Stat. Ann. § 14-15-118.5(1). The status of civil unions has not otherwise changed
since Colorado began allowing same-sex marriage.
4. Whether a prior entered civil union or domestic partnership must be dissolved before
entering into a same-sex marriage.
Pursuant to legislation passed on June 8, 2016, prior civil unions must be dissolved
before entering into a marriage, unless the civil union and marriage are between the
same two parties. See S.B. 16-150, 70th Gen. Assemb., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2016); Colo. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-2-105(b.5),
14-2-110(a.5), 14-15-118.5, 18-6-201.
SSA should accept Colorado same-sex marriage documents issued from June 25, 2014,
to July 18, 2014, and from October 6, 2014, and thereafter as evidence of a name change