This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion as to whether a Rhode
Island 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 Rhode Island will permit parties to the same-sex marriage to change their
names based on the marriage;
the date Rhode Island will begin 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 Rhode Island; and
whether a prior entered civil union or domestic partnership must be dissolved before
entering a same-sex marriage.
As explained below, a Rhode Island marriage certificate from a same-sex marriage may
be used as proof of a legal name change. On August 1, 2013, Rhode Island will begin
issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and thereafter will record same-sex
marriage certificates without delay. The new law does not disturb prior civil unions
except upon action by the parties, who may apply to have their civil union converted
to a same-sex marriage. Beginning August 1, 2013, no new civil unions will be created.
Rhode Island will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on August 1, 2013.
On May 2, 2013, the Governor of Rhode Island signed into law legislation enacted by
the Rhode Island General Assembly recognizing same-sex marriage. The law, entitled
“An Act Relating to Domestic Relations – Persons Eligible to Marry,” takes effect
on August 1, 2013. See 2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, ch. 004, Bill No. H 5015B. It directs town and city clerks to
begin issuing marriage licenses to any persons, regardless of gender, who are otherwise
eligible to marry. Id. There is no mandatory waiting period in Rhode Island from the time the marriage
license is issued to the time the marriage is solemnized; therefore, Rhode Island
may begin recording valid same-sex marriage certificates as of August 1, 2013. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-3-12.
Parties to same-sex marriages in Rhode Island are free to change their names upon
marriage, and a Rhode Island same-sex marriage certificate may be used as proof of
a name change.
Rhode Island follows the common law with respect to name changes, under which a person
may lawfully change his or her name without resort to any legal proceedings as long
as it is not made for fraudulent purpose. Traugott v. Petit, 404 A.2d 77, 78-79 (R.I. 1979). Predating the new same-sex marriage law, opposite-sex
couples have been able to change their names by designating such change on the marriage
license and certificate, and the agency has accepted such certificates as evidence
of name change. See POMS RM 10212.025; cf. R.I. Code R. § 31-1-29:26.3. The same-sex marriage law provides the same rights
to same-sex couples and does not distinguish between the form and contents of marriage
licenses or certificates for same-sex couples. See 2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, ch. 004, Bill No. H 5015B. Accordingly, Rhode Island will permit
parties to a same-sex marriage to change their names based on the marriage and the
same-sex marriage certificate will serve as sufficient proof of such change.
Prior civil unions will not be disturbed except by action of the parties to convert
the civil unions to marriages. No new civil unions will be created.
The same-sex marriage law does not automatically terminate or otherwise disturb prior
civil unions without action by the parties. Beginning August 1, 2013, parties to
a prior civil union may convert their civil union to a marriage through one of two
avenues. See 2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, ch. 004, Bill No. H 5015B. The parties may apply for and be issued
a marriage license and have such marriage solemnized in accordance with Rhode Island
law. Id. After the solemnization of the marriage, and upon filing of the license and certificate
of marriage with the clerk in the town or city from which the license was issued,
the civil union will be deemed “merged” or converted into the marriage by operation
of law as of the date the marriage certificate is recorded. Id.
Alternatively, the parties may apply to the clerk of the town or city in which their
civil union is recorded to have their civil union legally designated and recorded
as a marriage without any additional requirements of payment of marriage licensing
fees or solemnization. 2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, ch. 004, Bill No. H 5015B. Upon application,
the parties will be issued a marriage certificate and their civil union will be merged
into the marriage by operation of law as of the date the marriage certificate is recorded. Id.
As of August 1, 2013, no new civil unions will be available. See 2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, ch. 004, Bill No. H 5015B.
Based on the above analysis, we conclude that Rhode Island same-sex marriage certificates
will be acceptable proof of a name change. Rhode Island will begin issuing same-sex
marriage licenses and recognizing certificates of such marriages on August 1, 2013. The
new law permitting same-sex marriage does not disturb prior civil unions. Rather,
the parties to the civil union may apply to have the civil union converted to a marriage.
Beginning August 1, 2013, no new civil unions will be created.
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
Matthew J. Del Mastro
Assistant Regional Counsel