ACLU argued that adopting the same family name was not “fraudulent.”Abingdon, VA – A Washington County Circuit Court judge who had previously ruled that a woman could not adopt the last name of her same-sex partner has reversed himself, holding that the name change could go forward.
ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg represented Leigh Anne Ruth Hunter, who, along with her partner, Jennifer Beth Surber, petitioned Judge C. Randall Lowe for a name change. Both Hunter and Surber wanted to use Hunter as their middle name and Surber as their last name.
Judge Lowe originally granted Surber’s name change, but denied Hunter’s. The judge wrote that Hunter sought a name change in order for “the petitioner and her partner to hold themselves out as a married couple,” but that same-sex marriage is prohibited by Virginia law. For that reason, the judge ruled that the name was requested “for a fraudulent purpose.”
“The Virginia law banning certain legal relationships between same-sex couples creates confusion for judges and feeds the deeply rooted prejudices that still haunt gay men and lesbians in this state,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We’re pleased that Judge Lowe voluntarily agreed to rehear this case and that he listened to our arguments. It’s a good sign when public officials are open-minded about the rights of the LGBT community.”
Hunter and Surber have been in a committed relationship for eight years. They live together in Washington County along with their baby daughter, who is the biological daughter of Surber. Hunter and Surber wanted their last names to reflect the fact that they live as a single family. In his original opinion in October, Judge Lowe did not object to Surber adding Hunter before her last name, but balked at Hunter adding Surber to the end of her name.
In the court papers filed on behalf of Hunter and in oral arguments before Judge Lowe last November, Glenberg maintained that Hunter and Surber were only trying to reflect their relationship as a family, and that such a purpose was not fraudulent. Glenberg further argued that the name change did not violate Virginia’s marriage laws because it did not bestow upon the couple any of the privileges or obligations of marriage, and that the couple’s right to change their names is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
In his reconsidered opinion, issued last Friday, Judge Lowe wrote that “the Court finds the name change would not be made for a fraudulent purpose and reverses the prior findings of the Court.” The name change will take effect after the judge signs a final order, which is expected shortly.
The ACLU legal filing is available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Hunter-Motion-to-Reconsider.pdf. The judge’s opinion is available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Hunter-Opinion-Letter-20110107.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022