ACLU Says Rhode Island DMV Is Still Giving Women Misinformation About Name Change Rights 25 Years After Landmark Court Decision

July 28, 2004 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI–On the 25th anniversary of a landmark Rhode Island Supreme Court decision declaring that married women have the legal right to use their birth name on their driver’s license, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island charged today that the state Division of Motor Vehicles continues to misinform women about their rights.

“”We have to wonder how many women are unnecessarily following the DMV’s false information in order to have their name changed on their driver’s license,”” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “”Surely this 25th anniversary of a landmark case on women’s rights is an opportune time for the DMV to finally get it right and to revise its web site to reflect the law.””

The ACLU filed the historic women’s rights case in 1977 on behalf of a divorced woman who sought to resume the use of her birth name on her driver’s license, but was rebuffed by the DMV. In a controversial ruling, the Rhode Island Superior Court upheld the DMV’s policy to deny a name change for married and divorced women unless they submitted legal documents proving a formal name change had taken place. On July 27, 1979 the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned the burdensome policy, stating that individuals have a common-law right to use or adopt any name as long as it is not for fraudulent purposes.

Over the years, the ACLU has continued to receive complaints from women that the court decision was not being followed by the DMV, resulting in lengthy correspondence to Division officials about the complaints. The problem finally seemed to disappear in recent years, but last November, a resident complained to the ACLU about information appearing on the DMV’s web site which inaccurately claims that individuals must first apply for a name change with the Social Security Administration before obtaining a new license.

The ACLU immediately wrote DMV Administrator Charles Dolan to alert him of the misinformation, but after eight months, the ACLU still has not received a response and no changes have yet been made to the website.

“”The DMV may require an individual to submit an affidavit and some minimal evidence indicating that a name change is non-fraudulent,”” said Brown. “”However, a requirement that she provide a Social Security card issued in the new name is no different from the DMV’s illegal requirement struck down by the court in 1979.””

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