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Topics In the News
What's in a Name? Or, Petty Apartheid in Ohio
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/22/12
Last updated on: 06/22/12
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Stephen Hill and Joshua Snyder, who married last year in Washington, D.C., faced unexpected obstacles when they attempted to hyphenate their last names in their home state of Ohio. 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.

As Columbus television station 10.tv reports, when the couple 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 said that the moment took him back to his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" days in the military.

"I've been asked my entire life to lie, to alter my story," Hill said. "I can't do that anymore."

The couple decided to proceed with the request and listed marriage as the reason for their name change.

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.

The couple said that after a lifetime of keeping secrets about their sexuality, they wanted to stand up and tell the truth.

Ordinarily, the judge immediately renders a decision on whether to permit the name change, but in this case, Reddington chose not to issue a decision, instead promising to mail it to them within ten days.

Hill and Snyder believe that their request will be denied. If it is, they plan to 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.

Magistrate Reddington may be concerned that Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage precludes his allowing a same-sex couple married in another state to use their marriage as a reason for changing their names. To do so, he may think, would amount to 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.

"I can't lie anymore," Snyder said. "I can't do it. I've done it my whole life. You know, I fight for people's rights, liberty, freedom, civil rights, being in the military. I've gone to two wars. I just don't feel like I should have to lie on an application that somebody else doesn't have to lie on."

Hill first 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."

He and Snyder are also part of a lawsuit from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that is challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the video below, the couple reveals that a court official advised them to lie on the application form.

In the following video, a Columbus television station reports on the court appearance.

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