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Mich. driver’s license officials refuse name changes for married, gay couples

Mich. driver’s license officials refuse name changes for married, gay couples
Jonathan Oosting, APJesse (left) and Derek Melot.
Jonathan Oosting, AP
Jesse (left) and Derek Melot.

LANSING, Mich. — Don’t count on driver’s license officials in Michigan accepting name changes for gay people who are married.

The federal government and New York state may consider him Jesse Melot, but the Michigan Department of State insists he’s still Jesse Sherman.

A provision of the Michigan Constitution that voters approved in 2004 bans same-sex marriages, so he and Derek Melot went to New York to get married in October. He said the name change is a token of commitment.

“I love him, and I think that’s the best gift you can give someone,” Jesse Melot said. “This is for real. I love you. I want to take your last name.”

Afterward, Jesse Melot said he visited two Michigan Department of State offices with his marriage certificate seeking to have his new name put on his driver’s licenses. Clerks in both offices declined to do so, he told ( ).

Although he could spend money to have his name changed legally, married people normally can do that just by showing a marriage certificate.

“It’s utter frustration,” he said. “If I had been a woman going to change my last name, it wouldn’t have been an issue. They’re profiling at the counter. My certificate doesn’t say ‘same-sex.’ It just says marriage. But they see the names, and they’re discriminating against me.”

Department spokesman Fred Woodhams said that Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is simply trying to follow the law.

“The policy for staff is to not accept a same-sex marriage license to be consistent with the state constitution,” Woodhams said. “Anything that would lead the staff person to believe it is a same-sex marriage license would result in the document not being accepted.”

He said branch workers are not directed to be “on the lookout” for gay individuals seeking a name change, but they are told they cannot accept certificates from same-sex couples.

“Some marriage licenses may note the gender of the spouses or the spouses may both have traditionally male or female names,” he said.

Melot said it isn’t a matter of whether Michigan allows gay people to wed.

“I wasn’t asking them to recognize my marriage,” he said. “I was asking them to recognize a legally-binding document, period. I’m not trying to circumvent the system to get the state to recognize my marriage. All I’m looking for is my … license.”

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