This memorandum addresses whether a Massachusetts marriage certificate from a same-sex
marriage may be used as proof of a name change. In accordance with RM 10212.035D, we have also researched the following:
Whether Massachusetts permits parties to the same-sex marriage to change their names
based on the marriage;
The date Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex
Any change to the status of prior or new civil unions or domestic partnerships entered
into in Massachusetts; and
Whether a prior entered civil union or domestic partnership must be dissolved before
entering a same-sex marriage.
As explained below, a Massachusetts marriage certificate from a same-sex marriage
may be used as proof of a legal name change. On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts began
issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recording same-sex marriage certificates.
Massachusetts state law has never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships.
1. Massachusetts began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in 2003 that same-sex couples have a
right to marry under the Massachusetts Constitution. Goodridge v. Dept. of Pub. Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003). Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex
couples on May 17, 2004. Charron v. Amaral, 889 N.E.2d 946, 948 (Mass. 2008).
2. Parties to same-sex marriages in Massachusetts are free to change their names upon
marriage, and a Massachusetts same-sex marriage certificate may be used as proof of
a name change.
With respect to name changes, Massachusetts follows the common law, under which a
person may lawfully change his or her name without resort to legal proceedings so
long as it is done for an honest purpose. Sec’y of the Commonweath v. City Clerk of Lowell, 366 N.E.2d 717, 721 (Mass. 1977). Opposite-sex couples have long been allowed to
change their names by designating a change on a marriage license or certificate, see id. at 724 (“When a woman’s ‘name’ is to be recorded on a birth or marriage record, the
name to be recorded is the name chosen by her.”), and the agency has accepted these certificates as evidence of name change, see POMS RM 10212.025. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Goodridge provides that the Commonwealth may not distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex
couples for purposes of the protections and benefits of marriage. See Goodridge, 798 N.E.2d at 969 (“We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits,
and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person
of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.”). Based on Goodridge, Massachusetts courts have construed laws referring to a “husband” or “wife” as applying
to same-sex couples. See Della Corte v. Ramirez, 961 N.E.2d 601, 603 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012) (“We do not read ‘husband’ to exclude same-sex
married couples, but determine that same-sex married partners are similarly situated
to heterosexual couples in these circumstances.”) (citing Goodridge, 798 N.E.2d at 969 n.34 (“[S]tatutory provisions concerning consanguinity or polygamous
marriages shall be construed in a gender neutral manner.”); Cerutti-O’Brien v. Cerutti-O’Brien, 928 N.E.2d 1002, 1006 & n.6 (Mass. App. Ct. 2010) (applying divorce statute specifying
“husband” and “wife” to same-sex married couple)). Accordingly, Massachusetts permits
parties to a same-sex marriage to change their names based on the marriage, and the
same-sex marriage certificate serves as sufficient proof of such change.
3. Massachusetts state law has never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Following the decision in Goodridge, the Supreme Judicial Court, answering a question from the Massachusetts Senate,
held that a provision allowing same-sex civil unions, but not same-sex marriages,
violated the equal protection and due process requirements of the Massachusetts Constitution.
In re Opinions of the Justices to the Senate, 802 N.E.2d 565 (Mass. 2004). Thus, Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses
to same-sex couples and did not enact legislation providing for civil unions. Some
cities recognize domestic partnerships where the parties are not married. See Boston, Mass., City of Boston Municipal Code ch. 12-9A (2014); Cambridge, Mass.,
Code of Ordinances ch. 2.119 (2012). There is no requirement that parties to a domestic
partnership under city law dissolve the domestic partnership before marrying each
other in Massachusetts. See Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, How to Get Married in Massachusetts 19 (2015), available at http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/how-to-get-married-ma.pdf.
Based on the above analysis, we conclude that Massachusetts same-sex marriage certificates
are acceptable proof of a name change. Massachusetts began issuing same-sex marriage
licenses and recognizing certificates of such marriage on May 17, 2004. Massachusetts
state law has never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Christopher A. Michaels
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
Molly E. Carter
Assistant Regional Counsel