Don't Ask, Don't Tell at Florida's DMV?
"We were trying to follow what we thought were the rules for being responsible drivers in the state of Florida, but basically were advised on how to get around the rules because the existing ones did not apply to us as a same-sex married couple."
Last month, I married my fiance of three years. We tied the knot in Connecticut, where it’s legal for adults of the same gender to marry.
It undoubtedly was the best day of my life. When we returned home to St. Petersburg, our first plan of action as a married couple was to get our last names hyphenated.
We went to the Social Security Office and – bing-bang-boom – we had our new cards within a week.
Next on the list was a new Florida driver license with our new married names. We took into consideration that we are not recognized as a married couple in the state of Florida.
To be sure we would be able to get new licenses, we called the Department of Motor Vehicles, and spoke with a DMV representative. We told him that we were a same-sex couple and seeking to change our last names on our driver licenses.
He said, “Ma’am, that is none of our business. If you have a valid marriage license and the required documentation (Passport, Social Security Card, proofs of Residency), we honor it.”
Awesome. Things were coming along a lot easier than either one of us anticipated.
Monday, we went to the DMV at 1800 66th St. North with all of our documents: Social Security Cards (with our new, hyphenated last names), passports, current Florida Driver Licenses and two Proofs of Residency.
The receptionist checked us in. We waited the typical long time for our turn to be seen. My wife was called first.
She asked the woman on the other side of the counter if she could scan the marriage license, because I would need it next when my name was called.
The woman refused and stated that Florida does not acknowledge same sex marriage and therefore she could not change the name on the driver license.
I could see from where I was sitting that there was an issue. Suddenly, I felt nervous and my stomach was in a knot.
When the worker explained what she had just told my wife, I responded that we had spoken by a phone to another DMV representative, who assured us we would not have a problem.
Her response was, “Well, he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
She continued to shake her head and told us there was nothing she could do. She said that the only way we could change our names on our Florida driver licenses was to go to a state that honors same-sex marriages and get a driver license there first.
I did not say anything, but wondered to myself: "Isn't that lying to claim proof of residence elsewhere just to obtain a driver license I could present at the Florida DMV?"
She said we also could present a passport with our name changes, in addition to the Social Security cards we had with us. Or we could get a court order showing that we had legally sought a name change that was not connected to our marriage.
After 15 minutes of head shaking and no progress, we decided to walk out the door. We were trying to follow what we thought were the rules for being responsible drivers in the state of Florida, but basically were advised on how to get around the rules because the existing ones did not apply to us as a same-sex married couple.
I have worked hard to do what is right my whole life. I am a St. Pete native, a college graduate, and recently I took my first full-time job as an online news reporter for Patch.com. I also had married the love of my life.
I never imagined being refused something so mundane yet important as having a driver license with correct information. I had taken for granted these basic privleges. I felt humiliated. We were denied service, and it felt personal.
Why were we assured equality from one DMV worker and yet refused by another? Here we are, with our federal Social Security cards identifying me by one name and our state driver license bureau by another.
I am not one to raise a fuss about things. But I wanted to know what happened and why things had to be so complicated.
I called the Department of Highway Safety and spoke with the communications officer, Ann Howard. She verified that we had all of our proper documents, but she could not give an answer as to why this occurred – other than the fact that we had a same sex marriage not acknowledged in Florida. We already knew that.
After Howard made sure that our marriage license didn't say "same-sex" anywhere on it, she suggested we go to the DMV separately. The marriage license looks no different than any other, so why not try to beat the system and hope an unsuspecting worker doesn't pay attention? Thanks for the advice, maybe we can try out that idea some other time.
Howard dug further to find a way for us to get our names changed, although it still separates us from the rest of the population. She phoned back.
I learned that in order to get our names changed on our driver licenses we would need to get new passports with our hyphenated last names.
The combination of that federal document plus the federal Social Security Card will grant us access to a name change on our Florida licenses, no questions asked.
People get their names changed every day, but because we don't "fit in" under Florida law, we must go over the river and through the woods to get a new driver license.
From the public humiliation to the vulnerability of exposing the situation, this has been a challenging week to say the least.
As a gay married woman and resident of the area, I feel that there should not be such a gray area in dealing with a people's identities and their ability to conduct their life in a purposeful manner.
I guess in situations where I need matching forms of identification, I'll just tell them to draw straws as to which Rachel I am on that particular day.
The situation we were put in was distressing to the say the least – and humiliating.
The area is so gray that the DMV's own rep interpreted it incorrectly on the phone to us and the state's communications director had to do research to figure things out.
Where does that leave someone like myself and my wife who are simply trying to do the right thing and follow the letter of the law?