You have asked whether the State of Washington would recognize a marriage that took
place in British Columbia, Canada, and then was registered in British Columbia, to
support a legal name change for a number holder domiciled in Washington. If so, can
SSA change the name of the number holder on SSA's records? You have also asked whether
Washington's recognition of a Canadian marriage is dependent upon the Canadian province
in which the individuals were married.
Yes, if it can be ascertained that the individuals who married in British Columbia,
Kimberly M.~ H~ and Richard I.~ H~, are not first cousins and are not of the same
sex, the State of Washington would likely recognize their marriage, as certified by
the government of British Columbia. Because marriage is an accepted basis to change
a name, SSA can change the name of a married number holder on SSA's records. Second,
Washington's recognition of a Canadian marriage depends on the Canadian province in
which the individual's were married because, although consanguinity and same sex marriage
laws are the same across Canada, the legal age of majority varies among the provinces.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
Ms. H~ requested that we change her last name to H~, to reflect her recent marriage
to Mr. H~. Ms. H~ presented a certified copy of a Certificate of Marriage from British
Columbia attesting to her marriage to Mr. H~ on April 8, 2006. Both Ms. H~ and Mr.
H~ are residents of the State of Washington.
I. The State of Washington would recognize a marriage that took place in British Columbia,
Canada, and then was registered in British Columbia, to support a legal name change
for a number holder domiciled in Washington.
A. Federal Law Regarding Spouse's Benefits
A number holder's name may be changed on SSA's records when there is proof a legal
name change has occurred. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.110(a); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RM 00203.210A.1. The requested name change must be supported by an acceptable identity document.
Id. A document issued by a foreign government is acceptable as preferred proof of ceremonial
marriage. See POMS GN 00305.020 A.4.
B. The British Columbia Marriage Appears Valid
You have provided us with an apparently genuine and unaltered copy of a certified
true copy of the Certificate of Marriage entered "in the Ministry of Health Services
Vital Statistics Agency." See 20 C.F.R. § 422.107 (general evidence requirements to establish identity). It is signed
by the Chief Executive Officer of the Vital Statistics Agency and has a stamp affixed,
satisfying the requirements of POMS GN 00301.030A.3. That POMS provision states "A certified photocopy is a photocopy of the original
document in the custodian's possession to which the custodian affixes a signature,
stamp, or seal attesting to the accuracy of the photocopy." It does not appear that
the document is questionable, doubtful, or of unknown value. Therefore, a field investigation
to establish the validity of the document is not necessary. See POMS GN 00307.001B.
The Certificate of Marriage states that Richard I.~ H~ and Kimberly M.~ H~ were married
on April 8, 2006, in New Westminster, British Columbia. It lists the dates of birth
and places of birth for both individuals. It also lists the Certificate's registration
number and the date the marriage certificate was registered. It appears that the document
presented by the number holder is sufficient preferred proof of a ceremonial marriage.
Because we accept British Columbia's certification of the marriage, we accept that
they have made certain that the couple complied with British Columbia's marriage laws
prior to issuing the certificate. See POMS RM 00203.200H.3.d.
C. Washington Would Likely Recognize the Marriage, But Further Inquiry is Necessary
There are three apparent conflicts between the laws of Washington and British Columbia
regarding marriage: age, sex, and consanguinity (relation by blood). In the present
case, age does not appear to be a concern, as both Ms. H~ and Mr. H~ were over the
age of 19 (the age of majority in British Columbia) on April 8, 2006. See British Columbia Marriage Act, § 28(1), available at http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/statreg/stat/M/96282_01.htm. However, we need to establish that the parties are not related as first cousins or
closer and are not of the same sex.
Washington looks to the law of the jurisdiction certifying the marriage to determine
the marriage's validity. See RCW 26.04.020(3); State v. Rivera, 95 Wn. App. 961, 966 (1999). Washington might choose not to recognize a foreign
marriage if it is contrary to the law or policies of Washington, specifically, if
the marriage is between people of the same sex, constitutes bigamy, or violates consanguinity
laws. See RCW 26.04.020(1)-(3). Bigamy is prohibited in both Washington and Canada. See RCW 26.04.020(1)(a); Criminal Code of Canada, Offenses against Conjugal Rights, §
290, available at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/c-46/267462.html. Canada's marriage laws differ from Washington's laws regarding age, consanguinity,
and the requirement that a married couple consist of persons being of opposite sexes.
1. Age of Majority Differs Between Washington and British Columbia
The marriage laws of Washington and Canada conflict regarding the minimum age at which
marriage is allowed, although that conflict is not relevant here. Washington allows
persons aged eighteen years and older to marry. See RCW 26.04.010. With court approval and after a showing of necessity, Washington does
allow marriage of minors. Id. British Columbia allows a person to marry at age sixteen with permission of a guardian,
otherwise, at age 19, the age of majority. See Age of Majority Act, R.S.B.C. 1996 Ch. 7, § 1(1)(a) and (b); British Columbia Marriage
Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, Ch. 282 § 28(1). Age is not a concern here, as the Certificate
of Marriage lists Mr. H~' and Ms. H~' ages as over the minimum age for Washington
and British Columbia.
2. Consanguinity Laws are More Restrictive in Washington
There is a conflict between Washington's and Canada's laws regarding the degree of
consanguinity allowed between married individuals. Further inquiry is needed to determine
if that conflict is relevant in this case. Washington's consanguinity law is more
restrictive. It prohibits marriage between parties who are first cousins, whether
of the whole or half blood. See RCW 26.04.020(1)-(2). Canada's Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of 1990, states
that "[n]o person shall marry another person if they are related lineally, or as brother
or sister or half-brother or half-sister, including by adoption." See Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of 1990 § 2(2) available at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/m-2.1/250729.html. Thus, Canada does not prohibit marriage between first cousins. A first cousin is
defined as a child of one's aunt or uncle. See Black's Law Dictionary (8th Ed. 2004). To determine whether Washington would recognize
the H~-H~ marriage, we need evidence, such as a declaration from Ms. H~ and Mr. H~,
that the individuals are not first cousins.
3. Same Sex Marriage is Permitted in Canada.
The third condition that could cause Washington to refuse to recognize the H~-H~ marriage
is that Canada permits marriages between same sex individuals, but Washington does
not. See RCW 26.04.020(c); Civil Marriage Act, available at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/note.html. Contrary to Washington law, Canada permits marriage between same sex individuals.
See RCW 26.04.010 to .020; Civil Marriage Act of Canada, available at http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/statreg/stat/M/96282_01.htm (enacted July 20, 2005). The parties would need to establish that they are of the
opposite sex. Once it is established that the number holder is not the first cousin
and not of the same sex as of Mr. H~, we can be confident that Washington would recognize
D. Name Change Could Follow Marriage
Considering the apparent validity of the marriage documents and assuming further inquiry
bears out the validity of the marriage, a name change would probably be recognized
by Washington as a result of the marriage. Ms. H~' new name can be derived from the
marriage documents, which lists the groom's last name. See POMS RM 00203.210 B.1.a. All states allow a bride to take the groom's last name. Id. POMS instructs that name changes based on foreign marriages depend on the law of
the State where the number holder, who is a U.S. resident, resides. See POMS RM 00203.200H.3.d and RM 00203.210B.1.a.
II. Washington's Recognition of a Canadian Marriage Depends upon the Age of Majority
in the Canadian Province in which the Individuals were Married.
The laws regarding consanguinity and the legality of same sex marriage are the same
across Canada because the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of 199 and the Civil Marriage
Act of 2005 are national laws. The age of majority differs among the provinces, as
the table below illustrates:
Province Age of Majority Provincial Law
Alberta 18 Age of Majority Act, Cl.A-6, § 1
Saskatchewan 18 Age of Majority Act, Ch. A-6 § 2 (1)
Manitoba 18 Age of Majority Act, Ch. A-7, § 1
Ontario 18 Age of Majority and Accountability Act,
Ch. A7, § 1
Quebec 18 Civil Code of Quebec, Title 4, Ch. 1, Div.
Prince Edward Island 18 Age of Majority Act, Ch. A-8, § 1
New Brunswick 19 Age of Majority Act, Ch. A-4, § 1
Nova Scotia 19 Age of Majority Act, C. 4, § 1
Newfoundland 19 Age of Majority Act, Ch. A-4, § 2
Nunavut 19 Age of Majority Act, § 2
Northwest Territories 19 Age of Majority Act, c. A-2
Yukon Territory 19 Age of Majority Act, § 1(1)
British Columbia 19 British Columbia Marriage Act, § 28(1)
Further inquiry is warranted to determine whether Mr. H~ and Ms. H~: (1) are first
cousins or closer relations; and (2) are of the same sex. If they are not, then Washington
would recognize their marriage in British Columbia as valid and a name change based
on that marriage would be permissible.