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Virginia court grants name change for same-sex partner

Some women who marry men may prefer not to use a husband’s name. But adopting the same name can be an important badge of unity for gay and lesbian couples.

A Washington County Circuit Court has granted a name change petition for a woman who wants to adopt her female partner’s last name.

ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg represented Leigh Anne Ruth Hunter and her partner, Jennifer Beth Surber. Both Hunter and Surber wanted to use Hunter as their middle name and Surber as their last name, according to the ACLU press release.

Last fall, Washington County Circuit Judge C. Randall Lowe granted Surber’s name change, but denied Hunter’s.

Hunter testified she wanted to change her name so the whole family – Hunter, her partner and their baby girl – would have the same last name. Lowe said Hunter’s intention was to hold herself out as married to her partner, in contravention of Virginia law.

But after a rehearing, Lowe changed his mind on Jan. 7. Under the controlling statute, Va. Code § 8.01-217, a person can change her name unless evidence shows the name change is intended “for a fraudulent purpose,” or that it “would infringe upon the rights of others.”

Hunter argued that having the same last name as her partner would not confer any of the legal benefits of marriage in Virginia, and she recognized that such unions are prohibited by state law.

Lowe said he could find no fraudulent purpose for the name change. He vacated his October order and granted the name change petition in In re: Leigh Anne Ruth Hunter.
By Deborah Elkins

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