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West Virginia

West Virginia refuses drivers license to legally married same-sex spouse

Friday, December 7, 2012
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s been a year since Cynthia Landis married her partner, Melissa Landis, in the District of Columbia, and since that time Cynthia’s legal last name has been Landis — in fact, it now says so on her Social Security card, her District of Columbia marriage certificate and her Virginia driver’s license.

Cyndee Landis (right) with her wife, Melissa Landis, and their daughter Anne.

The problem now is that the Landis’ are moving to West Virginia, and that state refuses to issue Cynthia a drivers license in the name of Landis because she’s married to a woman and state law forbids the agency from recognizing any documents related to a same-sex marriage.

According to West Virginia Motor Vehicle Commissioner Steve Dale, his agency would be glad to issue Cynthia a license in her ex-husband’s last name because, in the state’s eyes, that’s still legally her name, reported the Charleston Gazette.

“I can’t believe that the state has the right to just say, willy-nilly, ‘We’re only going to recognize the legality of the documents we choose and not these.’ It’s ridiculous,” said Landis, who has sent a complaint letter to the governor’s office.

“I’m not asking the state to recognize my marriage,” she said, “but that is the proof that I have that my name has changed.”

Cynthia, 34, and Melissa, 30, married in D.C. in October 2011, and within a month Cynthia was able to obtain a new drivers license and social security card in the state of Virginia, where they resided, using their valid marriage certificate.

But upon moving to rural Hampshire County in West Virginia, state law requires new residents to surrender their old licenses within 30 days and obtain West Virginia cards.

In 2000, at the request of then-Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood, W. Va. lawmakers passed their own version of a Defense of Marriage Act, specifying that the only legal union is one between a man and a woman. That law reads that “public acts, records or judicial proceedings of any other state” regarding a same-sex marriage, “or a right or claim arising from such relationship, shall not be given effect by this state.”

And because of that law, Cynthia Landis is now an illegal driver in West Virginia, even though her Virginia license is valid through 2020.

“If this law were not in effect, we would have taken the marriage certificate on its face value as an official record and used it,” said Dale.

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