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Congratulations Stephen and Joshua Snyder-Hill
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/04/12
Last updated on: 07/04/12
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The Snyder-Hills.

On June 22, 2012, I blogged about the case of Stephen Hill and Joshua Snyder, who married last year in Washington, D.C. They faced unexpected obstacles when they attempted to hyphenate their last names in their home state of Ohio. As I wrote then, "Notwithstanding the fact that changing one's name is usually a routine matter, especially when one does so as a result of marriage, it turns out that Ohio practices a form of petty apartheid when it comes to gay couples." Appropriately on the 4th of July, I am happy to report that their request has been granted.

When Hill and Snyder showed up with their paperwork, which listed marriage as the reason for their request to blend their names to Snyder-Hill, a Franklin County Probate Court employee pulled them aside to offer some advice.

"We could put any other reason we wanted and it should be fine," Snyder said. "But stating we were married in another state would cause it to be declined."

Hill and Snyder refused to lie. Hill, who made news as the soldier booed by an audience during a Republican presidential debate for asking whether the candidates would try to reinstate "don't ask, don't tell," said that the moment took him back to his days in the military. "I've been asked my entire life to lie, to alter my story," he said. "I can't do that anymore."

On June 21, 2012, they appeared before Magistrate William Reddington. The judge asked the men if changing their names would make their lives easier, which is one of the reasons a name change might be allowed.

But Hill and Snyder refused to play the judge's game. They replied honestly that it would not.

"The reason that I want to change my name is because I married this man. I love this man. And I married him, and that's my reason for doing this," Hill said.

Ordinarily, the judge immediately renders a decision on whether to permit a name change, but in this case, Reddington chose not make an immediate decision. He told the couple that he would mail them the decision within ten days.

Because of the delay, Hill and Snyder believed that their request would be denied. They vowed that if it were, they would appeal.

In most jurisdictions, a judge has limited discretion to grant or deny a change of name. He or she usually can deny a request only if the name change is for fraudulent, frivolous, or immoral purposes.

I speculated that Magistrate Reddington might be concerned that Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage precluded his allowing a same-sex couple married in another state to use their marriage as a reason for changing their names. To grant their petition might be seen as a de facto recognition of their marriage. Perhaps that is why he seemed to be practically begging Hill and Snyder to give him some other reason for requesting the name change.

That speculation was correct. The delay in acting on the name change request was directly related to a fear that allowing it would in effect be sanctioning the marriage.

In a nine-page decision issued on June 29, 2012, Magistrate Reddington laboriously rehearsed an Ohio Supreme Court case from 2002, which ruled that a cohabiting same-sex couple could change their names as long as they acknowledged that their marriage was illegal in Ohio.

The real question, however, was whether Ohio's 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage might override the 2002 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

Magistrate Reddington ultimately decided that it did not. He ruled that "A name change does not by itself create or recognize a legal status. It does not create or take away any legal rights that existed before the name change."

Repeatedly emphasizing that granting the name change neither creates the appearance of a state-sanctioned marriage nor endorses such a marriage, Reddington granted the petition.

Congratulations Stephen and Joshua Snyder-Hill!

But how sad that gay couples are considered such a threat to public order in Ohio that so much time and effort must be expended before permitting something as simple as a name change.

On the 4th of July, we can take some comfort in the fact that Ohio's petty apartheid has been successfully challenged, but at the same time the decision makes us painfully aware that in over 44 states of the country gay and lesbian couples are denied the fundamental right to marry the person they love.

In the United States we pledge allegiance to a flag that promises liberty and justice for all. Maybe some day the reality will be closer to the promise.

The Snyder-Hills are also parties to a recent lawsuit filed by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the following video, a Columbus television station reports on the couple's court appearance in which they refused to lie as to the reason they wanted to change their names.

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