Diana Bijon knew she was taking a chance when she asked her fiancÈ, Michael Buday, to take her last name when they married in 2005.
This request, it turns out, was the easy part for the Marina del Rey couple.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California petitioned the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in December to bring marriage laws in California up to date by making the rules for a husband who wants to take his wife’s last name the same as for a wife taking her husband’s last name.
Men must now pay court fees of more than $300 and advertise the name change in a newspaper.
Women who choose to take their husband’s name when they wed pay only a $50 to $80 marriage license fee.
Buday, 29, and Bijon, 28, made the decision to recognize the importance of Bijon’s father in Buday’s life.
Bijon has one sister who is also married, so the Bijon family name would have ended if Bijon took Buday as her last name.
The couple hopes to extend the Bijon family name into another generation as an expression of Bijon’s French-American ancestry.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle of families being able to make their own decisions,” Buday said. “Diana’s dad has become my father figure, and I want to honor that.”
Rebuffed twice by Los Angeles County clerks, the couple approached the ACLU of Southern California to seek a change in the way state marriage laws are administered.
“Thirty years ago, many women did not have a choice to keep their own name,” Bijon said. “We’ve come a long way, and it’s time to recognize men’s equal rights to make important family choices.”
Before the 1970s, women were forced to petition a court if they wanted to keep their maiden name when they got married or if they wanted to change their name back to the maiden name after a divorce or death of the husband.
Six states recognize a statutory right for men to take their wives’ last name. They are Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota.
No data exists on how common is the practice of men taking their wives’ last name. In recent years, many couples have chosen to combine their last names or take hyphenated names.
For instance, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was born Antonio Villar and his wife was born Corina Raigosa. They combined their last names to form Villaraigosa when they married in 1987.
The six states that allow men to take their wives’ last name on the marriage application also allow couples to combine their last names with a hyphen or without.
“California has the perfect marriage application for the 17th century, and this relic belongs in the trash with laws that forced women to change their names when they married,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California.
The lawsuit names the California Department of Health Services and its director, Sandra Shewry, as defendants because they are responsible for prescribing the marriage license forms.
Also named as defendants are Los Angeles County and Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Conny McCormack because they are responsible for facilitating and recording marriage license applications filed within the county.
The law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy is co-counsel with the ACLU of Southern California.
A few weeks before their wedding in August 2005, Buday and Bijon went to the Beverly Hills Courthouse to apply for a marriage license.
On the “Application for a Marriage License,” the couple saw space for Bijon to enter her maiden name and her new married name if she wanted a new name.
The application did not have space for Buday to enter his last name and his new married name if he wanted a new name. The couple went forward with the marriage application and decided to deal with Buday’s name change at a later date.
Later, the couple learned that Buday would have to go through a statutory name change process as listed in the California Code of Civil Procedure. This name change process includes the following steps:
n filing a petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court;
n having the court issue an order to show cause why Buday’s name change should not be granted;
n publishing a copy of the order to show cause in a newspaper of general circulation, that the court designates, for four weeks; and
n if no objection to the name change is made, the court may grant the name change.
Court filing and newspaper publication fees would have to be paid by Buday and Bijon.
Buday also attempted to take Bijon as his last name through state Department of Motor Vehicles (Santa Monica office) and Office of Vital Records applications, but neither agency had procedures to allow a husband to take a wife’s name.
The petition to the court states that the couple “found it ludicrous” that Bijon could take Buday’s name on a marriage license application while the law required Buday to go through the courts.
“Such unequal treatment on the basis of sex is gender discrimination on its face insofar as a woman may change her name at no additional cost on the application, while a male must navigate the burdensome statutory process, which is not only monetarily burdensome, but also invasive in that it requires approval of the state via the courts and approval of the public via publication,” wrote the couple’s lawyers in the petition.
The ACLU told the court that “this discriminatory treatment on the basis of sex” violates:
n the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment;
n Article 1 Section 7 of the California State Constitution;
n California Government Code Section 11135; and
n the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code Section 51.
The Central District court has not yet scheduled a hearing in response to the petition.