You asked whether Ohio would recognize a Moorish A~ Affidavit of Marriage/Domestic
Partnership as a marriage record. You also asked whether the other states in Region
V would recognize a similar document as a marriage record. We conclude that the states
in Region V would recognize the Moorish A~ Affidavit as a record of a valid marriage
as long as the participants also obtained a marriage license from the state. Given
the confusion and blurring between the religious and the pseudo-governmental aspects
of Moorish Science, we recommend that SSA request evidence of a marriage license whenever
an individual is relying on a Moorish document as a marriage record. In the particular
case you submitted for our review, it appears that a marriage license was not obtained
for the Moorish marriage ceremony, and therefore the Affidavit should not be considered
a marriage document for purposes of a name change.
On February 6, 2004, Reginald R. B~ signed a Certificate of Religious Creed (Certificate)
with the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), stating that he was joining the
MSTA and thereby “gained Free Nationality and Birthrights as a Moorish-A~.” The Certificate
also stated that Mr. B~ was taking the name Bandele A. Y~-E~ as his “religious name
by birthright.” Mr. Y~-E~ apparently registered the Certificate with the Montgomery
County (Ohio) Recorder of Deeds, and subsequently obtained an Ohio driver’s license
under the name Bandele A. Y~-E~. He also obtained a name change on his Social Security
record reflecting this new name in 2004.
Mr. Y~-E~ and Karen D. B~ (applicants) signed a certificate stating that they “agree[d]
to be married as husband and wife” on May 28, 2009. Evidence of the marriage consists
of a pre-printed certificate entitled “Moorish A~ Affidavit of Marriage/Domestic Partnership”
(Affidavit). The Affidavit is subtitled “New Kemit, Montgomery County, Al M~ (America):
Ohio.” The rest of the Affidavit is divided into two parts. The first part consists
of a list of eight assertions. A preamble states that the participants have reached
the age of majority, and have been “duly cautioned and affirmed.” In the preamble,
the applicants’ pre-marriage names are listed as Bandele A~ Y~ E~ and Karen D. B~.
The assertions include statements that the applicants (1) share a permanent residence;
(2) are “Moorish A~ Free Nationals”; (3) are “domiciled in the united states of America
(Al M~), Republic, Moorish Republic New Kemit; Montgomery County, Ohio;” (4) agree
to be married “as husband and wife as given by the Moorish A~ National Sovereigns
1928;” (5) are not related; (6) know of no circumstances that would prevent the marriage
“from being recognized under Moorish, U.S. Constitutional and Common laws; (7) take
the “Moorish Free National” names of Bandele Y~ E~-A. and Karen D. B~ E~-A. as husband
and wife; and (8) certify under penalty of perjury “under laws of the United States
and Moorish Republic” that the Affidavit is correct.
The second half of the Affidavit consists of blanks for signatures, including that
of the husband, the wife, two witnesses, a notary public, the “Person Solemnizing
or performing Marriage,” and an “Authorized Moorish Official.” The applicants signed
the spouses’ signature lines as Bandele Y. E~-A. and Karen D. B~ E~-A. The Affidavit
was also signed by two witnesses, and bears the signature and seal of a Notary Public
for the state of Ohio. The notary dated the document May 28, 2009. The person solemnizing
the affidavit gave his title as “Grand Governor.” The Affidavit was apparently filed
with the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds. The Affidavit mentions the “Moorish
Republic;” “Moorish A~ Free Nationals;” “Moorish Free National;” and “Moorish A~ National
Sovereigns.” It contains no reference to the Moorish Science Temple of America.
We also conducted a search of the records of the Montgomery County (Ohio) Probate
Court, which show that a marriage license was issued in 2009 for Bandele A~ Y~-E~
and Karen D. B~ (License No. 200900001220). However, the Montgomery Probate Court
records state that the couple was married not on May 28, 2009 by an MSTA officiant,
but on June 6, 2009, by Pastor Brodie R. M~. See http://www.mcohio.org/probate/ (Case Search; Marriage License). According to records of the Ohio Secretary of State,
Brodie R. M~ is a pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio. See http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/ (Other Records, Search Licensed Ministers).
In June 2009, each of the applicants requested a change of name with the local district
office in Ohio. Mr. Y~-E~ sought to change his name to Bandele Y~ E~-A.; Ms. B~ sought
to change her name to Karen D. B~ El-A. The applicants submitted the Affidavit as
evidence for the change of name. They also submitted Ohio driver’s licenses in their
I. Documentary Evidence for SSN Card Based on Change of Name.
SSA requires an applicant for a Social Security Number (SSN) card to provide documentary
proof of his/her identity, so that SSA can ascertain that the person is who he/she
claims to be, and that he/she is the person to whom SSA originally assigned the SSN.
POMS RM 00203.200(A), (C)(2). Following passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), Pub. L. 108-458, SSA developed standards to verify
documents or records submitted by applicants to establish eligibility for original
or replacement SSN cards. These standards took the form of priority lists of documents
that are considered acceptable evidence of identity. POMS RM 00203.200(B). The priority
is based on (1) the applicant’s age; (2) the applicant’s citizenship or alien status;
and (3) the relative probative value of the documents. POMS RM 00203.200(B)(1). Applicants
are required to submit the document with the highest probative value that is reasonably
available. POMS RM 00203.200(B)(2). “Available” means that the document exists and
the applicant can obtain or gain access to it within 10 business days. POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(3).
For United States citizens aged 18 or older, an unexpired driver’s license, non-driver
identity card, or passport is considered primary evidence of identity. POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(1).
When a number holder (NH) applies for a replacement SSN card to reflect a name change,
the NH must submit at least one name change document that identifies him/her by both
old and new name. POMS RM 00203.210(A)(1). The name change document must also show
either an identifiable description or photograph of the person, or biographical data
such as the age, date of birth, or parents’ names that can be compared with data that
SSA already has about the NH. POMS RM 00203.210((A)(1). Generally, when the name
change document lacks a photograph, description or biographical data, the NH must
submit two additional identity documents listed in RM 00203.200(E), one with the
old name, the other with the new name. POMS RM 00203.210((A)(1).
A marriage document is generally acceptable secondary evidence of identity for a legal
name change if the document shows not only the applicant’s name, but also has either
a photograph or biographical information such as his or her age, date of birth, or
parents’ names, as long as the biographical information matches the data on the applicant’s
latest record, and the marriage took place within the last two years. POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(2),
(H)(2); POMS RM 00203.210((B)(1); POMS EM-06064(A)(1)-(3). If the marriage document
does not meet these criteria, the marriage document may serve as evidence of the new
name, but the applicant must also submit an identity document in the old name. POMS
EM-06064(A)(3). The identity document in the old name must be acceptable under the
priority lists in POMS RM 00203.200(E). See POMS EM-06064(A)(3). A driver’s license is considered primary evidence of identity.
POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(1).
SSA recognizes that some states permit a married couple to take an entirely new surname.
POMS RM 00203.210((B)(1)(d). When the new surname can be derived from the marriage
document, the marriage document alone can be taken as evidence of identity for both
the old and new names. POMS RM 00302.210(B)(1)(d), POMS EM-06064(A)(2). When the new name cannot be derived from the marriage
document, the marriage document can be accepted as evidence of the event for the name
change, and may be accepted as evidence of the old name if the document also includes
appropriate biographical data, but cannot be accepted as evidence of identity for
the new last name. POMS RM 00203.210((B)(1)(d), POMS EM-06064(A)(2). The applicants
must submit an additional identity document showing the new last name. POMS RM 00203.210((B)(1)(d),
For all documents, SSA policy is that a document should be verified with the issuing
agency if there is any reason to suspect that the document is questionable. POMS RM 00203.050.
Any document “issued by a fictitious governmental organization or a private organization
that purport (sic) to be governmental organizations” is considered questionable. POMS
RM 00203.200(F)(2)(c). The POMS expressly lists the Moorish Consulate and Moorish
National Bureau of Vital Statistics as examples of entities purporting to be governmental
organizations whose identity documents are considered questionable. POMS RM 00203.200(F)(2)(c).
Such documents are not individually acceptable as identity documents, but are considered
potentially useful to support secondary or approved third-level documentary evidence.
POMS RM 00203.200(F)(2)(c) (NOTE).
However, while the Moorish Republic may be a fictitious government, federal courts
have recognized that Moorish Science and the MSTA is “a bona fide religion.” Johnson-Bey v. Lane, 863 F.2d 1308, 1309 (7th Cir. 1988). The Seventh Circuit has recognized that some
adherents of Moorish Science espouse the belief that, as Moorish nationals, they are
not bound by the laws of the United States unless those laws are expressly mentioned
in a 1784 treaty between the United States and M~co. United States v. James, 328 F.3d 953, 954 (7th Cir. 2003); see also www.moorishrepublic.com/Nationalitylaws.htm. The court also observed that, under
some Moorish Science religious beliefs, “any adherent may adopt any title, and issue
any documents, he pleases.” Id. Ohio has apparently licensed some Moorish ministers to perform marriages in the state.
II. Ohio Would Recognize the Moorish A~ Affidavit Only If the Marriage Was Properly
Solemnized under Ohio Law. Under the POMS, a marriage document is acceptable secondary evidence to support a
change of name on an NH’s SSN card. POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(1); POMS RM 00203.210((B)(1);
POMS EM-06064(A)(1)-(3). An identity document issued by a fictitious governmental
organization is not. POMS RM 00203.200(F)(2)(c). A document like the Moorish A~ Affidavit
at issue in this case creates tension between these provisions, because while SSA
may properly recognize groups such as the “Moorish Consulate” or “Moorish Republic”
as fictitious governmental organizations that federal law does not recognize, federal
law does recognize Moorish Science as a real religion, not a fictitious one, and SSA
must treat it and respect it as such. Distinguishing between a Moorish group’s religious
and pseudo-governmental aspects is complicated because the group itself may not recognize
any distinction between the two. (For example, the Moorish Divine National Movement
of the MSTA considers itself both a “Jural Society” and a “Religious Society.” See www.motheriscalling.com/THEMOVEMENT.html.)
In the case at issue here, the applicants sought replacement SSN cards, with both
of them taking on an entirely new surname. It appears that Ohio would permit couples
to assume an entirely new surname when they marry. See POMS PR 05005.039 (citing In re Bichnell, 771 N.E.2d 846, 848 (Ohio 2002).
In support of their applications to change to this new name, the couple in this case
submitted the Moorish A~ Affidavit, which contains both applicants’ old and new names,
but not the type of biographical data described in the POMS (i.e., age, date of birth,
or parents’ names, which could be compared to the Numident record). See POMS RM 00203.200(E)(6)(2), (H)(2)(a). When the name change document does not include
such biographical data, the applicant may submit an identity document with the old
name in addition to the marriage document, and in such cases the marriage document
will be considered the identity document for the new name, and the identity document
for the old name will link the applicant to the old name on the Numident. EM 06064(A)(3).
Here, the applicants also submitted Ohio driver’s licenses as evidence of their old
names, so the lack of biographical information that would link them to the pre-marital
name is satisfied.
It is not as clear whether the marriage document (assuming it qualifies as a marriage
document) would be sufficient evidence of the new name requested, since the parties
are requesting an entirely new surname. Agency policy suggests that a marriage document
is generally not sufficient evidence of a name change if the parties are seeking an
entirely new name that is not derived from the document. See EM 06064(A)(2) & attached table. A name is generally considered to be derived from
the document if one spouse is taking the other spouse’s last name, or a compound name
of each spouse’s original name is being adopted by one or both parties. Id. However, this policy is apparently based on the assumption that the marriage document
would not otherwise reflect the new name, if the name is not derived from the parties’
premarital names. See EM 06064(A)(2) (assuming that entirely new name would not be shown on the marriage
document); POMS RM 00203.210((D)(5) (explaining that marriage document would not
generally support a name change to an entirely new name because the document “does
not show the newly chosen surname”). Here, however, the document shows both the parties’
old names and the new surname that they intend to use. Therefore, if the Moorish A~
Affidavit qualifies as a marriage document from a ceremonial United States marriage,
the applicants have arguably submitted sufficient documents to show identity. However,
if the Affidavit does not qualify as a marriage document, it may be used to support
other evidence of a name change, but is not acceptable by itself.
The Moorish A~ Affidavit has several indicia of a ceremonial marriage document. The
fourth affirmation states that the parties “mutually consent and agree to be married
as husband and wife.” The sixth affirmation also refers to “our marriage,” and the
seventh affirmation identifies the applicants, under their new surname, as “husband
and wife.” The applicants signed the Affidavit in the blanks for “husband’s signature”
and “wife’s signature.” The Affidavit has a signature line for the “person solemnizing
or performing Marriage.” That person gives his title as “Grand Governor,” which is
a common title for the leader of an MSTA temple.
Other aspects of the Moorish A~ Affidavit are more ambiguous. Despite references to
marriage on the Affidavit, the title suggests that the certificate could serve either
as a marriage document or as a domestic partnership document. Ohio does not recognize
domestic partnership as an alternative to marriage. Ohio Const. § 11, Art. XV. In
addition, the Affidavit makes several references to Moorish National status, Moorish
law, and the Moorish Republic. However, unlike the MSTA Certificate of Religious Creed
that applicant Y~-E~ signed in 2004, the Affidavit contains no mention of the MSTA,
or any other overtly religious group or society. The person who signed the Affidavit
as the “person solemnizing or performing marriage” with the title “Grand Governor”
signed the Certificate of Religious Creed as “Grand Elder in Islam.” Although “Grand
Governor” is a common title for the leader of an MSTA temple, it is unclear whether
the MSTA would recognize him as having governmental – or, from SSA’s point of view,
pseudo-governmental – authority, as opposed to clerical or religious authority.
The Affidavit meets all of Ohio’s requirements for witnessing. In addition, because
Ohio recognizes the MSTA as an Islamic sect, see Abdullah v. Fard, 974 F. Supp. 1112, 1114 (N.D. Ohio 1997), the Ohio Secretary of State would have
to give a recognized MSTA temple leader a license to solemnize marriages if he presented
the appropriate credentials. It appears that the Affidavit was filed with the Montgomery
County Recorder of Deeds, which Ohio requires from the person who officiated over
the marriage. Thus, Ohio would recognize the Moorish A~ Affidavit as a marriage document
as long as the applicants obtained a marriage license, and the person who solemnized
the marriage had a license to do so. If the applicants and the celebrant did not acquire
the appropriate licenses, Ohio would not recognize the Affidavit as a marriage document.
In this case, our search of Ohio public records indicated that the person who signed
the Affidavit as the “person solemnizing or performing marriage” apparently did not
have a license to solemnize marriages. See http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/recordsindexes.aspx. In addition, while our search suggested that the applicants obtained a marriage license,
the license was not used for a marriage by the MSTA. Rather, the Ohio records indicate
that the license was used for a marriage in a Baptist church several days after the
date on the Affidavit, and the marriage license was filed by a licensed Baptist minister.
Therefore, we believe that under the facts of this case, Ohio would not recognize
the Affidavit as a marriage document.
Ordinarily, under the procedures set forth in the POMS for changing Numident name
data, SSA does not investigate ceremonial marriage documents to assess the validity
of the marriage. However, given the well-documented history of Moorish groups acting
in both a bone fide religious and a pseudo-governmental capacity, Moorish documents
like the Affidavit in this case may be considered sufficiently ambiguous that it would
seem reasonable for SSA to request that a marriage license also be provided, to ensure
that the document relates to a state-recognized marriage, and is not merely a document
issued under the authority of the Moorish pseudo-government. See POMS RM 00203.050.
SSA may wish to modify the procedures governing acceptable evidence so that where
a marriage document appears questionable, the person processing the enumeration may
ask the applicant if he or she obtained the requisite state marriage license. In some
cases, as in Ohio, it may be easy to verify whether an applicant obtained a marriage
license, or whether the person who celebrated the marriage was appropriately licensed.
However, given the variety of Moorish groups, it seems likely that SSA will have to
assess documents purporting to be Moorish or MSTA marriage records on a case-by-case
basis. It is possible that some Moorish temples may employ a certificate where it
is clear from its face that it constitutes an acceptable ceremonial marriage document.
Other documents may be ambiguous, like the Affidavit, or clearly unacceptable.
III. Other States in Region V Would Also Consider Moorish Documents to Be Marriage
Documents Only If the Parties Obtained a License for the Marriage.
The same tension between the religious and pseudo-governmental aspects of Moorish
Science that applies in Ohio also applies in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota
and Wisconsin. Each state requires couples to obtain a marriage license, and requires
that the license be filed with the appropriate state official after the marriage.
See 750 ILCS 5/201, 5/203 5/209; Ind. Code 31-11-4-1, 31-11-4-3, 31-11-4-13, -16; Mich.
Comp. Laws §§ 551.2, 551.101, 551.104, 551.107; Minn. Stat. Ann §§ 517.01, 517.07;
Wisc. Stat. §§ 765.05, 765.12, 765.19, 765.20(1). It seems likely that all of the
states in Region V would accept a document like the Affidavit as evidence of a valid
marriage as long as the marriage was properly licensed, solemnized and registered.
As noted above, given the difficulty in determining whether a Moorish marriage document
may have been issued as part of a religious ceremony with a proper marriage license
issued by the state, or whether the document was issued pursuant to pseudo-governmental
authority, it would seem reasonable for SSA to request a marriage license in the case
of Moorish marriages to determine whether the state recognizes the marriage.
In sum, we conclude that in all states in Region V, a Moorish marriage document like
the Affidavit in this case would be recognized as a valid marriage document only if
the participants also obtained a marriage license from the state in which the marriage
took place, and the marriage was properly solemnized in accordance with state law.
Since it is generally unclear from the face of such a document whether it is a ceremonial
marriage record of a licensed marriage, we recommend that SSA request a marriage license
to determine whether the document can be considered a marriage document for purposes
of a name change. In this case, our research suggests that the document was not issued
in conjunction with a marriage license, and would not constitute a marriage document
for purposes of the name change request. However, we recommend that you verify this
for the record.
Donna L. C~
Acting Chief Counsel, Region V
Julie L. B~
Assistant Regional Counsel