Do wedding witnesses need to use their legal names?
March 15, 2021 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Long story short, one friend I'd like to ask to sign my marriage licence as a witness has not yet been able to legally change her name (she is trans). Can she sign using the name she uses instead of the name on her ID? This is for a civil ceremony to take place in the United Kingdom.

She's starting the name change process soon, but in case she hasn't got an updated ID by the time we're able to have an in-person wedding ceremony, I want to know what we're up against. This has been surprisingly hard to Google. Any insight will be much appreciated!
posted by some_kind_of_toaster to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your council's Registar will be able to answer this over the phone I would imagine but at no point did my mother or my mother in law provide ID when I got married in a civil ceremony; they just signed the certificates etc.
posted by halcyonday at 3:04 AM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

In the UK, the law is clear that you can change your name at any point, so long as it is not for a fraudulent purpose. So when you say that she "has not yet been able to legally change her name", that isn't how things work in the UK. Perhaps you mean that they haven't yet obtained official ID in their new name?

So I think your question comes down to: does a witness need to show photo ID that matches the name they use on the marriage licence? I don't know the answer to that, but don't let any jobsworth tell them that their preferred name is not their "legal name" in the UK.

Further reading: Link 1 and Link 2.
posted by richb at 3:17 AM on March 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Where in the UK? The law is different in Scotland.
posted by mani at 3:25 AM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

On a practical level, who will ever know?

I can't remember last time we showed our marriage license to anyone and I can't imagine anyone being interested in the witnesses.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:23 AM on March 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was a witness at a civil ceremony in England in 2011 and no one asked me for ID.
posted by kitten magic at 5:24 AM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, the witness is from and lives in the US, so I’m talking about the name change process in her home state. (I’m new to the UK myself.) The wedding will take place in England.

So far it sounds like this might not be an issue? Which is fantastic!
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 6:34 AM on March 16, 2021

Best answer: Most unions are never challenged, so ensuring your witness's id matches over time is usually not an issue.

But. If it was my wedding and
  • I lived abroad,
  • paranoid/worried enough about the details to post an ask*
  • there were immigration and legal ramifications
  • and I want to avoid deadnaming.
I would invest in an alternate, and cheap, and widely accepted by authorities method of wedding witnessing: the newspaper! I would buy a wedding announcement in a local & real paper newspaper, and put a copy of the whole page in your status folder. The point of a witness, and printed announcements, is to fend off legal challengers to your union. Traditionally it was other people, these days it's mostly immigration authorities. No-one will formally ID your witness in person at the time of the wedding - and any reasonable government process will accept a printed announcement for the event after.

Anytime you want to make answering to immigration easy about questions regarding your wedding - get an announcement printed in the paper, include your full legal name, residence (not full address), and date.

*its me. Life goal is to never test the immigration process and remain as unexceptional as possible.
posted by zenon at 7:45 AM on March 16, 2021 [8 favorites]

Not sure how it works in UK, but I am 85% sure that my Riverside County, CA marriage license had the usual "under the penalty of perjury, I [full legal name] attest that the following is true and blah blah blah" language for everyone including the witnesses and officiant. So, maybe you can find copy of whatever is going to be signed and see how much of an official legal document it is, or isn't.
posted by sideshow at 10:47 AM on March 16, 2021

Best answer: I have a copy of my license and it just has two lines to sign for the witnesses, in the US the officiant must fill out their title and provide more details. In the UK you have to pre-register before you get married with the local office, and then have an official registrar at your ceremony. There isn't any requirements of the witnesses other than you need two of them, they have to be adults. Here's a recent copy of the form they sign in the UK.

My suggestion for the wedding announcement in the paper is to provide an easy piece of evidence for any future immigration processes. I wish I had known how useful it is for officially documenting and wish I had done it. I didn't get one, but have seen situations where it required significant effort to answer the immigration's questions. Most people won't need it - but I think it would provide me some peace of mind for relatively trivial cost/burden, especially if you are deviated from a traditional ceremony.
posted by zenon at 11:29 AM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

When we were married in Scotland in the late 90s, the registrar threw a shit-fit that the best man only used his middle initial, and we had to go find him and get the form amended with his full legal name.
posted by scruss at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

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