Vow Renewal and Marriage License Renewal?
November 11, 2016 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Question in light of the threat to Obergefell vs. Hodges, with transgender complications.

My wife is MtF transsexual, I am cis female, and we live in Connecticut. She transitioned in 2014 (with GRS) and has legal name change documentation, the appropriate name and gender marker on her driver's license, and a reissued birth certificate under that name with the correct gender marker. All good.

We were married in 2004, ten years prior to her transition, so our marriage license has her old name on it. A year or so ago, we asked the clerk in the town in which we were married (her town of residence at the time, one town over from where we live now) if we could get a reissued license and she said no, that marriage licenses were basically considered a record of one specific point in time, signed by the officiant at the time we were married.

Symbolically, I've never been particularly thrilled about this, although my spouse certainly isn't the type to disavow anything that happened in her life under her "dead name" and is still perfectly willing to consider us legally married. But now, with a potential threat to universal gay marriage rights in the USA, I'm feeling a bit leery. What, exactly, are our rights under a marriage license for someone who now, per birth certificate, was never born?

There's no way in hell we want to go through the process of divorcing and remarrying just to get a new marriage license--particularly because the divorce process in CT takes at least 6 months and that could be dangerous by 2017, as well as just feeling karmically nasty. Is it possible to renew marriage vows in a way that's more than just symbolic--i.e., to get a new marriage license for THAT point in time without legally nullifying the previous one?

Granted, if any Supreme Court overrule of Obergefell occurs, I don't know if it could a) invalidate same-sex marriages that have already taken place, as no states have a real mechanism to divorce couples who are married and don't want to divorce; or b) revert the decision on same-sex marriages to the states, which in our state would not be a significant issue. I may not need to worry, although I'd be more concerned if Obergefell's overrule could lead to a nationwide ban on same-sex marriage. But, in any case, aside from all fears, it would be NICE to have a marriage license that says who I'm really married to.

posted by dlugoczaj to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Lambda Legal has addressed this somewhat on their website. They seem to think that your situation will be treated legitimately and cite some case law. I would suggest contacting them directly to ease your mind.
Marriages remain valid if they were valid at the time they were entered into. The government cannot retroactively invalidate a marriage because of a change in eligibility criteria that occurs after the marriage is entered into.
I am a justice of the peace who marries people in Vermont. This is my non-legal opinion but this is how I'd play it if you are concerned. I think if you re-applied for a wedding license in CT they'd be like "Wait, you are already married" (because they'd see one of your names and/or look you up) but if you applied in a different state (esp one that was GLBT friendly and in no danger of passing anti-GLBT legislation) you could just get "re" married with your current names and genders and call it a day. If you're up this way let me know and I'd do it for free.
posted by jessamyn at 2:25 PM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I agree with jessamyn that you should talk to a lawyer, but also look at this website which talks about the amendment of your marriage certificate.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:42 PM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: I had never thought of applying in another state. The idea intrigues me--but a potential down side is that we legally have the same last name, so I suspect any clerk might look at us with some suspicion.

I'm interested in the section in that document about both parties applying to change the marriage certificate, room317. That might give us some wiggle room.
posted by dlugoczaj at 3:52 PM on November 11, 2016

The only problem I can foresee with getting married in another state is if/when you'll be applying for federal benefits, and the federal government gets confused about the date and length of your marriage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2016

I would call the CT Department of Public Health, Vital Records, and ask them what the process for changing a marriage certificate is. It should be fairly straightforward to amend your record and get a new marriage certificate. Doing this is also nice because if it only shows her current name and gender, then she is not outed every time she has to prove you're married to each other. Some states only let you amend to a "Current Name FKA Dead Name" and in that case, I wouldn't bother, since you would be outed by the cert no more than you already are.

Since she has name-change documentation tying her old identity to her new identity, she doesn't need to amend the record. Just keeping the name change paperwork together will answer any questions, same as if she were unable to change her birth cert. Get extra copies of your court order, if possible, and hold onto them.

We can't know what will happen, but it is unlikely that any shenanigans would affect existing marriages-- just prevent new marriages. It might be to your benefit to be able to prove that you were in a "straight marriage" at first, or it might not, which would be evidenced by her name change documentation and SSA record, if it came down to it. We just can't know.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

-but a potential down side is that we legally have the same last name, so I suspect any clerk might look at us with some suspicion.

FWIW, my straight CIS cousin married a man with the same last name as her.
posted by missmagenta at 6:15 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

FYI I asked my town clerk about this yesterday. She said

1. Lawyer
2. Town Clerks don't care if your last names match
3. Getting married in another state could be seen as not legal to do and is not advisable, by her

I'd suggest asking your question of the nice folks at Transgender Law & Policy Institute
posted by jessamyn at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2016

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