Montana began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on November 19, 2014. Should SSA
accept marriage documents issued to same-sex couples in Montana as evidence of a name-change
Yes. SSA should accept marriage documents issued to same-sex couples in Montana on
November 19, 2014, and thereafter, as evidence of a name-change event.
On October 15, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed lower court decisions
finding that Idaho’s and Nevada’s bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
See Latta v. Otter, 771 F.3d 496 (9th Cir. 2014). On November 19, 2014, based in large part on Latta, a federal district court judge held that Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage was
unconstitutional and directed that his order be effective immediately. See Rolando v. Fox, 23 F. Supp. 3d 1227 (D. Mont. 2014) (declaring Montana Code Ann. §§ 40-1-401(1)(d),
40-1-103 and Mont. Const. Art. XVIII § 7 unconstitutional). The State appealed this
ruling to the Ninth Circuit, but the parties later agreed to stay appellate proceedings
pending the United States Supreme Court’s decision in DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), cert. granted, ___S. Ct. ___, Nos. 14-556, 14-562, 14-571, 14-574 (Jan. 16, 2015), which involves
nearly identical issues. See Order Staying Appellate Proceedings in Rolando v. Fox, No. 14-35987 (9th Cir. Feb. 9, 2015), available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/general/2015/02/09/14-35987%20Order%20granting%20Stay.pdf
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. The POMS recognizes that marriages are name-change events. See POMS RM 10212.010. Moreover, SSA policy requires SSA to “[a]ccept same-sex marriage documents validly
issued by a U.S. state, 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.
1. The date the State will begin issuing marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex
Montana began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on November 19, 2014. SSA should
treat documents reflecting same-sex marriages that occurred in Montana on November
19, 2014, and thereafter, as valid for purposes of establishing a name-change event.
2. Whether the State permits parties to the same-sex marriage to change their names based
on the marriage.
Montana permits parties to change their names based on marriage. In general, Montana
allows an individual to change his or her name as long as the individual meets a residency
requirement and a judge does not conclude that the name change should not be allowed.
See Mont. Code Ann. §§ 27-31-101 to 27-31-204. With regard to whether marriage documents
support a request for a name change, the Montana marriage statutes do not directly
address the issue. See Mont. Code Ann. §§ 40-1-101, et. al. However, Montana does accept marriage certificates as proof of a name change for
the purpose of changing the name on an individual’s driver’s license. See https://dojmt.gov/driving/driver-licensing/#changing-your-name-on-your-driver-license-or-id-card (accessed March 27, 2015). These rules do not specifically refer to same-sex marriages.
However, the court decisions discussed above hold that there can be 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 issued
in Montana on November 19, 2014, and thereafter.
3. Any change to the status of prior or new civil union or domestic partnership entered
into in the same State.
As Montana does not provide for the statewide recognition of civil unions or domestic
partnerships, this question is inapplicable.
4. Whether a prior entered civil union and domestic partnership must be dissolved before
entering into a same-sex marriage.
As discussed, Montana does not provide for the statewide recognition of civil unions
or domestic partnerships. Nor does Montana have any legal authority for providing
recognition of a civil union or domestic partnership from other jurisdictions. While
subsequent actions by the State of Montana or its courts could change the analysis,
we do not believe, based on the current status of the law, that a same-sex couple
must dissolve any previously formed civil union or domestic partnership prior to entering
into a same-sex marriage in Montana. Cf. Mont. Code Ann. § 40-1-107(1)(b) (requiring only that a prior “marriage” be disclosed
for purposes of marriage license application); see also, e.g., Montana Dep’t of Revenue, Same Sex Filing FAQs, https://revenue.mt.gov/Portals/9/individuals/forms/Same-sex-filingstatus-FAQ.pdf (“Montana tax law does not consider couples in civil unions or registered domestic
partnerships as ‘married.’”) (last visited April 21, 2015).
SSA should accept Montana same-sex marriage documents issued on November 19, 2014,
and thereafter, as evidence of a name-change event.