Hoping to snip through the red tape of getting a driver license, new Collier County resident David Scott Duseau showed up at the Department of Motor Vehicles well prepared.
Birth certificate, proof of address — check. Social Security card and marriage certificate to document his name change — check, check.
Although he brought everything the DMV instructed online, Duseau didn't walk away with a new ID that mid-April day. He said they stopped processing his paperwork when DMV staff saw David's spouse was named Paul.
"Had he had a name like Pat, it wouldn't have been an issue," said Duseau, 46, referring to a gender-ambiguous name.
When the couple legally married in Massachusetts in 2007, Duseau took his husband's name, changing his driver license and Social Security card. They knew Florida wouldn't recognize same-sex marriage when they moved to North Naples this winter.
Then they learned the marriage certificate didn't count either, even to show how his name changed from Burris to Duseau.
"I'm not asking to recognize my marriage," Duseau said. "Just recognize my name change."
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which oversees driver license issuance, can't do that, staff said.
"It's not that we don't recognize the marriage," agency spokeswoman Courtney Heidelberg said. "We as a department cannot recognize the documentation of a same-sex marriage because of that law."
That law, she explained, is Florida statute 741.212, which states that no matter where the union occurred, same-sex marriages "are not recognized for any purpose in this state," adding that state agencies can't recognize "any public act, record, or judicial proceeding" of a marriage other than the one "between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
"We have looked at it to determine if there was any way, any type, any flexibility in the law," Heidelberg said. "It's so specific we can't — we have to follow (it)."
That understanding of the law is questionable, according to the legal director for the ACLU of Florida.
"I don't think the DMV is correct in it's interpretation," said Randall Marshall. "He's not asking the State of Florida to recognize his marriage, he's asking the State of Florida to recognize his name change. I don't think this statute prohibits the DMV from using that document for that purpose." He believes there is "room for an attempt to get the DMV to change its interpretation."
The Florida DMV requires three forms of identification from license applicants: a primary one, like a birth certificate or a passport, proof of Social Security number, and proofs of residential address. If the applicant changed names, a certified copy of a marriage certificate or court order is needed to document that change. On its website, the agency states only that marriage licenses "must be from a governmental agency."
Staff at the local DMV office were polite, Duseau said, but told him to get his Florida license he had to bypass the marriage certificate step and either get a passport with his married name, or get a court order declaring his married name. Both options meant money and time he didn't want to — and didn't feel he should have to — spend.
"Why should I be fined or taxed... (when) others don't have to pay?" Duseau asked, citing passport and court order fees.
After a week of stalling during which Duseau emailed local and national media, he said he capitulated, paying $110 to apply for a new passport.
The risk of being without the license, however, could be costlier. A new Florida resident caught driving without a state license after 30 days could face a second-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
"The problem you are facing is experienced by most same-sex married couples who reside in states that do not recognize their marriage," wrote Bruce Bell of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based organization, in response to an email from Duseau.
Social Security accepted his name change because it was done in a state where the marriage is recognized; otherwise, that wouldn't have worked for Duseau either, Bell said.
Because a court order is generally needed to legally change one's name in Florida outside of marriage, individuals who undergo non-marital name changes already have that legal document to present to the DMV.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage to include one man and one woman. Sixty-two percent of Florida voters in 2008 backed an amendment to the state constitution to explicitly ban same-sex marriages; Collier and Lee voters supported the change at 63 percent and 65 percent respectively.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment's official sponsor, called the driver license issue "innocuous."
Because "marriage benefits society in unique ways that same-sex couples do not," one of the perks is the ability to automatically change one's name, Stemberger said.
The DMV, he added, "should follow the law, and they did follow the law. It's unfortunate that it's an inconvenience for these two individuals."Duseau's case is not isolated. Another Florida couple was told in January by DMV staff over the phone their marriage certificate would be valid to prove their name change, but in person it was rejected.
They were excited to get their licenses at first.
"(It's) the final step of the marriage, it really signifies you're together..." said Rachel Lambert-Jolley, 26, a St. Petersburg resident who merged surnames with her wife after their 2011 marriage in Connecticut.
The DMV rejection quashed that, she said, describing the scene as "embarrassing and upsetting."
Brian Winfield, managing director of gay rights advocacy organization Equality Florida, believes these cases aren't about validating gay marriage in Florida.
"Our feeling is that there is a huge difference between recognizing this couple as legally married in Florida and allowing them to change their name on their license," Winfield said. "They're being discriminated against, humiliated by being told their relationship is meaningless, and financially penalized."
The DMV and Equality Florida do not have figures on how frequently name-change issues for same-sex couples arise, but Winfield suspects it's more than these two cases. Some couples pay for the court order or passport to get the license ordeal over with, he said.
"Many people having had that experience just don't want to fight about it anymore," Winfield said.
Lambert-Jolley believes at the very least, Florida needs a protocol for same-sex spouses who change their names.
"We're not asking you for a wedding gift," she said. "We're asking for our driver's licenses."