Man Fights to Take Wife's Name in Marriage


Jan. 8, 2007 — -- What's in a name?

Before Michael Buday married his fiancée, Diana Bijon, he decided to honor her family by bucking tradition and taking her last name. But, it wasn't so easy.

Under California state law, he needed to pay more than $300, go to court, file a petition, and publicly advertise his name change for four weeks in a local newspaper. If he had simply gone along with tradition, it would have cost only $50 to $80.

So Buday, 29, went to court, along with the ACLU, to change the law. They recently announced their plans to sue the California Department of Health Services, which oversees marriage licenses and name changes.

After years of fighting for women's rights, the ACLU is now battling for equal rights for men.

California is one of 44 states with unequal name change laws for people getting married. Right now, only six states -- Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota -- explicitly allow a man to change his name through marriage with the same ease as a woman can.

California is not the only state with a high price tag for a groom's name change. In Illinois, a man wishing to take his wife's surname must fork over $246 for a petition and another $150 to publish the change in a newspaper. Connecticut's price is slightly lower, at only $150 for a court petition.

According to the ACLU, the obstacles facing a husband who wishes to adopt his wife's last name violate the equal protection clause provided by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

"California has the perfect marriage application for the 17th century," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The laws reflect a mind-set that the wife is to be subordinate to the husband."

In California, a surname change for the husband is not even an option during the marriage process. Instead, the man must go through a regular name change process, as if he were changing his first name from Bob to Jim.

When contacted, the California Department of Health Services would not comment on the current state of the law.

"At every junction, the message is 'select the name of the husband,'" Rosenbaum said.

Buday was unavailable for comment, but he was quoted in an ACLU press release as saying, "It's not about the money, it's about the principle of families being able to make their own decisions. Diana's dad has become my father figure, and I want to honor that."

Gloria Allred, a top women's rights attorney in Los Angeles, fully supports the ACLU's efforts.

"In California we have made a deliberate effort to try to remove from state laws and regulations any distinctions or burdens made on gender," she said.

As for Buday's personal decision to adopt his wife's last name, Allred adds that "the point is not if he wishes to change his name, but that he has a right to do it."

Buday, she says, is set apart from most men because "he is secure enough" to take his wife's surname.

Of course civil rights lawyers back Buday, but what would an etiquette coach say?

Jodi Smith, head of Mannersmith etiquette consulting, also backs him.

"I do see this as a gender equality issue," she says. "Now that women are considered 'real' and 'legal' people, last names should be a matter of choice."

Will the male name swap soon become a trend? No data exists on how common the practice is. But many couples in recent years have chosen to combine their last names.

For instance, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (born Antonio Villar) and his wife, Corina Raigosa, combined their names when they were married in 1987.

Although Buday must still legally use his "maiden name," the couple reportedly signed their Christmas cards as Mr. and Mrs. Bijon.