When Shannon L. Q~, a woman, and Douglas R. B~, a man, registered as domestic partners
in Urbana, Illinois, the City issued them a certificate of domestic partnership. Relying
solely on the certificate, Q~ asks the Agency to issue her a new Social Security card
in the name of Shannon L. B~. But to effectuate a name change, the Agency requires
evidence of a marital relationship or other legal name-changing action. Because in
Illinois a certificate of domestic partnership does not create a marital relationship
or its equivalent, it is an insufficient basis to cause the Agency to effectuate a
In May 2005, the City of Urbana, Illinois enacted a Domestic Partner Ordinance. The
Ordinance provides equal recognition for same-gender and heterosexual domestic partners.
To qualify for the registry, the Ordinance provides that partners must "live together
in a close and committed relationship of mutual financial and emotional support."
The Ordinance requires partners to "present valid photo identification with proof
of age." The Ordinance states that one of its purposes is "to provide area employers
the service of registering domestic partnerships for the sake of providing benefits."
More information about the Ordinance is available at the City of Urbana's webpage.
In August 2007, Shannon L. Q~, a woman, and Douglas R. B~, a man, registered with
the City of Urbana as domestic partners. Q~ has tendered to the Agency her City of
Urbana Certificate of Domestic Partnership. Based on the Certificate alone, she asks
the Agency to change her name on the Numident to Shannon L. B~, and to issue her a
new Social Security card.
For the Agency to change a person's surname, the regulations require proof of a "verified
legal change to the . .. surname." The POMS explains that, to establish a name change,
a person must present a marriage document other equivalent legal document, divorce
decree, Certificate of Naturalization, a court order for name change, or an amended
birth certificate. The POMS further provides that, where a woman marries a man and
wants to adopt his surname for her new surname, the Agency can accept the marriage
document alone as evidence of identity, even if the document only shows their first
names. (For other situations not relevant here, the POMS requires additional documentation
to establish identity.) Finally, the POMS provides that, for a civil union or a domestic
partnership, a legal opinion is required to determine whether the State recognizes
the domestic partnership as sufficient to effectuate a surname change.
The Office of the General Counsel has already authored several such opinions regarding
the effect of a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-gender marriage in California,
Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington. But none of those opinions is
on point because each State has unique laws making it different than Illinois. There
is also an opinion for Illinois, however, and that opinion is relevant. You were concerned
that the prior Illinois opinion was factually different from this matter, as it concerned
a domestic partnership of same-gendered individuals, whereas the question at hand
concerns heterosexuals. Nonetheless, the analysis and conclusion of the prior opinion
apply equally here.
The prior opinion concerned a domestic partnership ordinance for Cook County, Illinois.
The basis of the opinion was that Illinois has passed a statute prohibiting a marriage
between same-gendered individuals. Indeed, Illinois has also passed a law stating
that a marriage between same-gendered individuals is "contrary to the public policy"
of Illinois. Thus, when the Illinois Appellate Court upheld a similar domestic partnership
ordinance for the City of Chicago, it noted that the ordinance did "not create a marital
relationship or status, but simply define[d] the type of insurance of which City employees
can avail themselves."
The City of Urbana ordinance also states that one of its purposes is so people who
are not married, be they same-gendered or heterosexuals, can avail themselves of benefits
from area employers. But there is nothing in the City of Urbana ordinance that would
suggest that its intent was to supplant a traditional marriage certificate. And indeed,
if that were the intent, the ordinance might be void, at least with respect to same-gender
unions, as it would be contrary to Illinois law banning same-gender marriages. Further,
even a domestic partnership between heterosexuals lacks the formalities of a marriage,
as it does not require a license; and it is the product of a local ordinance, not
state law. Therefore, as the City of Urbana ordinance does not create a marriage relationship
or status under state law, a woman who registers with a man under the City of Urbana
domestic partner ordinance is not entitled to have her surname changed to her partner's
s! urname on the Numident and to obtain a new Social Security card with her partner's
In issuing this opinion, we recognize that the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that
Illinois follows the common law allowing a person to change her name at will, so long
as that name-change "'does not interfere with the rights of others.'" But the common
law is not a basis to allow Q~ to have her name changed on her Social Security card.
Due to concerns about homeland security and identity theft, the Agency requires a
marriage certificate or other equivalent legal document, divorce decree, Certificate
of Naturalization, a court order for name change, or an amended birth certificate.
Because the Illinois Court of Appeals has clearly stated that a certificate of domestic
partnership is not a marriage document, and it does not satisfy any of the other POMS
criteria, it does not satisfy the POMS, and is thus not a basis standing alone to
have the Agency change a name. Therefore, simply because under the common law an Illinois
resident may change her name for any reason, this is not a basis to allow Q~ to have
her name changed on the Numident and to receive a new Social Security card.
A certificate of domestic partnership is not a basis for a legal name change in Illinois,
whether the partners are same-gendered or heterosexuals, because the State does not
recognize it as the equivalent of a marriage certificate, which is what the Agency
requires in order to effectuate a name change.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region V
Charles R. G~
Assistant Regional Counsel
New Policy for Name Changes Based on
Marriage or Divorce
Name Change Event Legal
(Submit to Regional Chief Counsel) Evidence
of Name Change Event Evidence
of New Name Evidence
of Number Holder's Identity
U.S. ceremonial marriage
No Marriage document Derived from marriage document
1. When additional ID document is NOT needed:
No additional document required if Name change document shows a recent name change
event and biographical data on name change event document. Data must match latest
2. When additional document is needed:
One additional document needed if: Name change event is not recent ii and/or name change document does not show biographical dataiii.
Name change document; and
ID in the old name. The identity document in the old name must match he latest Numident.
Use the priority lists of acceptable identity documents in RM 00203.200E. The identity document in the old name is acceptable even if no longer current or
it is expired per RM 00203.210B.
Policy Change Eff. 10/06
U.S. State recognized same-sex marriage No, see RM 00203.200
Massachusetts same-sex marriage document Derived from same sex marriage
U.S. State recognized civil union No, If one exists see RM 00203.200 H.2.b or PR 02705.
Yes, submit if not in POMS. Vermont Civil Union Certificate.
See RM 00203.200 H.2.b Derived from civil union document i
U.S. State recognized domestic partnership No, if one exists See PR 027.
Yes, if not in POMS. None.
See existing legal opinions in PR 027. Derived from domestic partnership document
Note: Evaluate document per GN 00307 and RM 00203.040. Policy
Change Eff. 10/06 Foreign marriage document Derived from foreign marriage document i
Domestic or Foreign
Divorce or Annulment
No Divorce or Annulment Decree Divorce decree stating new name;
Name on any prior Numident record; or
Name on birth certificate or amended birth certificate; or
Name from a prior marriage certificate; or
Naturalization Certificate; or
DHS document; or
Court order for name change.
Policy Change Eff. 10/06