A South Florida man thought that he was making a gesture of love and respect when he decided to do what many newly married women do – take the last name of their male spouse. He changed his name from Lazaro Sopena to Lazaro Dinh. He was doing it for his wife, Hanh Dinh, who has four sisters, but no brothers to carry on the family name. So he changed his name on his driver’s license, as well as on his social security card and his passport. But no good deed goes unpunished.
About a year later, Lazaro received a shock when he opened a letter from Florida’s DMV. His driver’s license was being suspended. The reason for the suspension – he was being charged with fraud because he changed his last name to his wife’s surname. Like most states, Florida does not allow men to change their surnames when it’s the result of getting married. Instead they must go through the lengthy and expensive process of getting it changed through the court system.
Although it’s not common, it’s not unheard of for a man to adopt his wife’s surname. In 2007, Californian Michael Buday wanted to take his wife’s surname. Instead of going through the lengthy and expensive court process, Buday worked with the ACLU to challenge the law. The ACLU stated that the law discriminated against men, in violation equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
With the assistance of the ACLU, Buday fought for a year to change California law so that he could legally use his wife’s surname as his own. He won, and now goes by the name Michael Bijon. As a result, the California DMV has changed its forms so that men can legally change their surname on their driver’s license when they get married.
The change in California’s law doesn’t help Lazaro. According to Lazaro’s attorney, there are only nine states that have this gender neutral law – California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia and North Dakota. Unfortunately, Florida is not among those states. So he did the only thing that he could do. He tried to challenge the DMV policy.
Despite his best efforts, the DMV ruled that he had committed fraud. He’s still unable to drive legally, and can’t have Dinh listed as his surname on his license. Where does he go from here? Lazaro plans on appealing the ruling. Perhaps he will also contact the local ACLU to change Florida law. Whatever the outcome, Lazaro surely never thought that simply changing his name would cause such a stir. After all, he just wanted to honor his wife and her family.