Mike Buday and his fiancee decided before they wed that he would take her last name, but he was stunned to learn that he could not simply become Mike Bijon when they married in 2005.
As in most other states, that would require some bureaucratic paperwork well beyond what a woman must go through to change her name when marrying.
Instead of completing the expensive, time-consuming process, Buday and his wife, Diana Bijon, enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the state of California. They claim the difficulty faced by a husband seeking to change his name violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"Diana and I feel strongly about gender equality for both men and women," Buday said. "I think the most important thing in all of this is to bring it to a new level of awareness."
Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU in Southern California, said it is the first federal lawsuit of its kind in the country. "It's the perfect marriage application for the 17th century," Rosenbaum said. "It belongs in the same trash can as dowries."
Only six states - Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota - have statutes establishing equal name-change processes for men and women when they marry. In California and other states, men cannot choose a different last name while filing a marriage license.
In California, a man who wants to take his wife's name must file a petition, pay more than $300, (EUR 233) place a public notice for weeks in a local newspaper and then appear before a judge.
Because of Buday's case, a California state lawmaker has introduced a bill to put a space on the marriage license for either spouse to change names.
The Census Bureau does not keep figures on how many U.S. men are taking their brides' names. But clearly it happening more and more. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Clerk Mark Ryan estimated that one in every 100 grooms there now takes the name of his wife.
Bijon, 28, approached Buday about the idea when they were dating. She had no brothers but wanted to prolong the family name. Buday, a 29-year-old developer of interactive advertising, was estranged from his own father and was not attached to his own last name.
"I knew immediately it was pretty important to her or else she wouldn't have brought it up," Buday said.
At one point, the couple tried the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a name change. But Buday said he was told by a woman behind the counter: "Men just don't do that type of thing."
Couples who want to hyphenate or combine their names also must endure the lengthy court procedures in California. One of the more notable examples was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who went to court to fuse his last name, Villar, with his wife's, Raigosa, when they married in 1987, the AP says.
Laws giving women an easy choice of names were largely a byproduct of the feminist movement. A 2004 Harvard University study found that the number of college-educated women who kept their surnames upon marriage rose from about 3 percent in 1975 to nearly 20 percent in 2001.
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