Gay marriage galore in Massachusetts, the legalization of marijuana in Denver, cheerleaders being legally forced (God forbid) to cheer on their fellow female athletes in New York, three minority groups represented in the running for the Democratic ticket and now this: Men adopting their wife’s last name. Chicken Little, the sky is falling!
Or so it seems for the Neanderthal wing of conservatism. But, alas, it’s time to get with the ages.
Adding a new chapter to the progressive movement, the Chicago Sun Times recently reported that Mike Buday, a 29-year-old developer of interactive advertising, is seeking to put an end to all the tedious bureaucratic hurdles blocking the path of men who wish to adopt their wife’s last name upon marriage. Buday and his wife, Diana Bijon, have enlisted the legal support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file suit against the state of California for the double-standard procedure it employs concerning last name changes. The couple claims that the impediments men face in taking their wife’s last name constitutes a breach of the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.
On California marriage license forms, women are given the opportunity of keeping their maiden name or paying a fee ranging from $50 to $97 if they decide to take their husband’s surname. For men, the process is slightly more complicated. The groom must file a petition, pay upwards of $300, run a notice of his intentions at a local newspaper for several weeks, and then appear before a judge.
California, along with a majority of states, does not even provide a slot on marriage license applications for grooms to choose the bride’s last name. USA Today has identified only six states, namely Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota, which enable both spouses to choose the other’s last name on applications.
According to Mark Rosenbaum, the legal director of the ACLU in Southern California, the California marriage application represents “the perfect marriage application for the 17th century.” Rosenbaum adds, “It belongs in the same trashcan as dowries.”
Although the Census Bureau does not keep official track of how many American males are opting to take their wife’s last name, there is some evidence suggesting that this fashionable trend may be on the rise. As the Chicago Sun Times informs, in Milwaukee County alone it has been estimated that one out of every 100 grooms takes the bride’s last name.
So, what could be triggering this affront to the traditional gender paradigm? Education may be one explanation. In 2004, a Harvard University study found that college-educated women who kept their maiden names after marriage increased significantly from 3 percent in 1975 to about 20 percent in 2001.
Moreover, as Katie Roiphe writes in Slate Magazine, “Now that women marry later, and live more of their adult life with their maiden names, it can feel unnatural to assume another name, even for women who do not consider themselves feminists. Once you have ‘made a name for yourself’ in the world it becomes more complicated, and even professionally damaging, to change it.”
Whatever social forces are keeping this trend alive, I hope they continue. Although the Buday case may seem insignificant, it represents a new order in gender politics.
Future husbands be warned: Real men don’t only wear pink, but they also wear their wife’s last name.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior philosophy and political science double major. Her column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.