Florida Couple Fights DMV’s Refusal to Acknowledge Their Marriage
A man from Collier County, Fla., says he was denied a new driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles because the department could not recognize a same-sex marriage license that he received after marrying his partner in Massachusetts, the Naples Daily News reported.
Collier County, in Southwest Florida, is dominated by Naples, a resort town that has exploded in population in recent years.
David Scott Duseau, 46, provided all the necessary information needed to receive a new ID: birth certificate, proof of address, Social Security card and his marriage certificate that documented his name change.
Once the DMV’s staff realized that Duseau was married to a man named Paul the department stopped the process. "Had he had a name like Pat, it wouldn’t have been an issue," said Duseau said. In 2007, Duseau legally married in Massachusetts and took his husband’s name, which allowed him to change his driver’s license and Social Security card.
Florida does not recognize marriage equality and has not legalized civil unions but the couple was aware of the state’s policy when they moved to North Naples this winter.
"I’m not asking to recognize my marriage," Duseau said. "Just recognize my name change."
But the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which is in charge of issuing driver’s licenses, says it cannot recognize the name change.
"It’s not that we don’t recognize the marriage," agency spokeswoman Courtney Heidelberg said. "We as a department cannot recognize the documentation of a same-sex marriage because of that law."
Florida statue 751.212 says that gay marriages "are not recognized for any purpose in this state" despite where they were preformed. The law also adds that state agencies can’t recognize "any public act, record, or judicial proceeding" of a marriage other than the one "between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
"We have looked at it to determine if there was any way, any type, any flexibility in the law," Heidelberg said. "It’s so specific we can’t -- we have to follow (it)." The American Civil Liberties Unions’ (ACLU) Florida chapter argues that the law can be interoperated in a different way.
"I don’t think the DMV is correct in its interpretation," said Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida’s legal director. "He’s not asking the State of Florida to recognize his marriage, he’s asking the State of Florida to recognize his name change. I don’t think this statute prohibits the DMV from using that document for that purpose." He believes there is "room for an attempt to get the DMV to change its interpretation."
Duseau said the DMV’s staff was polite but they told him that he must bypass the marriage certificate step to get a Florida license. To do so, Duseau hast to get a passport with his married name, or get a court order. But those efforts would take extra money and time.
"Why should I be fined or taxed... (when) others don’t have to pay?" Duseau asked.
But a week later Duseau decided to fork over $110 and apply for a new passport.
Some gay rights activists reacted to the incident. Bruce Bell of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based group, said that many same-sex couples that live in states that do not recognize marriage equality encounter the same issue.
"The problem you are facing is experienced by most same-sex married couples who reside in states that do not recognize their marriage," Bell said.
Brian Winfield, managing director of Equality Florida, said these cases are not about recognizing same-sex marriage in the state.
"Our feeling is that there is a huge difference between recognizing this couple as legally married in Florida and allowing them to change their name on their license," Winfield said. "They’re being discriminated against, humiliated by being told their relationship is meaningless, and financially penalized."
But the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, John Stemberger (the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment’s official sponsor) said "marriage benefits society in unique ways that same-sex couples do not" and one of the benefits of heterosexual marriage is the ability to automatically change one’s last name.
Rachel Lambert-Joelly, 26, of St. Petersburg, Fla., merged surnames with her wife last year when they married in Connecticut.
"(It’s) the final step of the marriage, it really signifies you’re together," she said. "We’re not asking you for a wedding gift," she said. "We’re asking for our driver’s licenses."