TN 40 (09-15)
PR 02712.024 Massachusetts
A. PR 15-180 Opinion on the Acceptability of Massachusetts Same-Sex Marriage Documents for the Purposes of Enumeration Name Changes
August 13, 2015
Accept marriage documents issued to same-sex couples for marriages that took place on May 17, 2004 or later by Massachusetts as evidence of a name change.
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 couples;
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
Many couples received waivers allowing them to forego the three-day waiting period to obtain a marriage certificate, see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 §§ 19 & 30, allowing them to marry on May 17, 2004. See Same-sex couples exchange vows in Massachusetts, Cable News Network, available at http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/05/17/mass.samesex.marriage/ (visited July 31, 2015).
A valid marriage certificate serves as proof of a legal name change in Massachusetts. See Frequently Asked Questions, City of Boston, available at http://www.cityofboston.gov/registry/faq.asp (visited July 31, 2015).