Last year, after Connie married her partner of nine years in California, she took her wife's surname, legally changing her diver's license and Social Security card to Connie Wilson. Legally speaking, she is Connie Wilson.
When work required that Wilson and her partner move from California to Houston with their three kids this summer, she knew the State of Texas wouldn't recognize her marriage. What she didn't know is that she couldn't keep her name.
Wilson didn't see the disclaimer tucked away in the corner of the Texas Department of Public Safety website stating that "since the state of Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage" the department won't recognize same-sex marriage licenses for a name change. "I didn't think about it. I wasn't asking for a name change," Wilson says. "I don't need a name change. I did that a year ago. Even with the Social Security Administration, I'm Connie Wilson."
Earlier this month, Wilson registered her car, paid the tax collector, and went to a Pasadena DPS office to apply for a new resident driver's license, armed with her California license, Social Security card, her birth certificate, and some local utility bills to prove she'd moved. When the clerk asked for some documentation explaining the name-change from her birth certificate to her other documents, Wilson pulled out her California marriage license.
"The clerk noticed there was another woman's name at the top, and her only comment to me was, 'Is this same?'"-- meaning, is this a same-sex marriage certificate? "My heart sank, and I knew I was gonna have a problem."
Wilson's problem, which was first reported by the Texas Observer late last week, isn't unique. Back in July, we detailed the legal maze married couples in Texas must navigate because of the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. Stories like that of Elizabeth Wigle, who, despite having federal documents that bear her married name, still has to use her maiden name on her Texas driver's license.
At the Pasadena DPS office, Wilson asked the clerk what her options were. "At first, she told me to go back to California to get a license," Wilson claims. She asked for the clerk's supervisor and learned the clerk was the supervisor. Wilson eventually asked if DPS would grant her a license with her married name if she spent the $500 to go to court, get an order changing her name from "Wilson" to "Wilson," and brought that court order back to the DPS office. "Her response was, 'No, we will not.' Apparently because I have a paper trail showing that I received Wilson from a same-sex marriage."
We asked DPS if a court order would be enough to grant Wilson a license with her married name. We've received no response, but will update the story if and when we get one. Wilson also contacted Sen. Sylvia Garcia's office for help. Paul Townsend, Garcia's general counsel, said the office is looking into it, but hasn't yet heard anything definitive from DPS. Townsend also said that his office has heard from at least one other person facing the same problem since learning of Wilson's story.
Equality Texas field organizer Daniel Williams noted the absurd, Kafkaesque nature of DPS' apparent stance in this case -- that since state law doesn't recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, DPS can't recognize a name change that was the result of an out-of-state same-sex marriage (a name change that has already been granted by both the federal government and that of another state).
"This is like two degrees separated from actually recognizing same-sex marriage, which appears to be the issue for DPS here," Williams says. The state administrative code gives DPS clerks discretion on whether to accept an ID as valid when someone applies for a license -- provided they don't discriminate against protected classes like race, age, sex, religion, and country of origin.
"There are no state protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation," Williams says. "Because of that, this is not an uncommon story."