Catherine Schmitt didn’t want to give up her last name when she and Jason Sands got married in August.
“I think it’s ridiculous that women give it up and men just stay the same,” she says.
But the couple, both 36, did want to have the same last name to represent their union and commitment. The solution was they both would hyphenate. “Schmitt-Sands” wasn’t too cumbersome or odd-sounding, they decided.
“We would both have same name and both keep our name. It was the perfect solution,” Cat Schmitt-Sands says. “I know it’s tradition, but why do women have to give up their name, give up their identity, and men don’t.”
They met with some skepticism, but had the attitude, “Calm down. People hyphenate all the time.”
The instructions on their Wayne County marriage license said the woman should sign with her new name, so that’s what Cat Schmitt-Sands did.
“The directions were specifically for women,” she says.
The document had no instructions for the men, and the couple figured it was taking the form some time to catch up to the 21st century. Caught up in wedding festivities, they didn’t worry about it, thinking he would follow some other simple legal procedure to enact his married name.
After all, it was just one signature for the bride that gave her a new name. It couldn’t be that different for the groom in this day and age, they thought.
After their wedding, Cat Schmitt-Sands, a doctoral candidate in political science and research assistant at Wayne State University, took the marriage license around.
The Secretary of State for a new license. The bank to change account names. The Social Security office. There was a small hiccup when the couple applied for credit to buy some furniture and found credit reporting hadn’t caught up to her new name.
“It’s been easy, cheap or free for me,” Cat Schmitt-Sands says.
The trouble started when Jason Schmitt-Sands, as he’d like to be known, researched how to get his new name on identification, accounts and whatever else he’d need.
“We went to the Wayne County Clerk to file a name change petition for Jason,” Cat Schmitt-Sands says.
But there was a filing fee of $125. Then he would have to get fingerprinted which can cost upwards of $50. He would need criminal background checks, a hearing in front of a judge and the publishing of a legal notice of the change.
“It would be more than $600 for him to change his name. For me? I just signed,” Cat Schimtt-Sands says.
More research revealed that it’s possible to correct information on their marriage license with Wayne County. And that costs less than $50. The couple plans to try that within the month, and Deadline Detroit will report on those efforts and results.
The whole situation has the couple asking the question, why not gender equity on the marriage license to begin with? Sure, a slim number of men change their name with marriage, but a growing, undetermined, number are. Legal forms and procedure need to catch up, or at the very least, be gender-neutral in their language.
The Social Security Administration, to its credit, is specific when it says a “person” can change a name with a marriage license. Not woman, not man.
Wayne County, to start with, should gender neutralize its marriage licenses.
After all, with marriage equality hopefully looming on the horizon, it’s only right that brides and grooms in whatever combination should get equal, non-gender-specific consideration from our governmental agencies.
This article originally published in Deadline Detroit