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Melissa Landis (left) and her partner, Cyndee (right), celebrate their wedding with their daughter, Anne Hatton.
Erika Horn/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 12/7/2012
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.--For the year since she married her partner, waitress Cynthia Landis has legally been a Landis. It's the name on her Social Security card, her District of Columbia marriage certificate and her Virginia driver's license.
But the state of West Virginia won't recognize it. The Division of Motor Vehicles won't issue the Romney resident a driver's license in that name because she's married to a woman, and state law forbids the agency from recognizing any documents related to a same-sex marriage.
The DMV would be glad to issue the 34-year-old Landis a license in her ex-husband's last name of Hatton, Deputy Commissioner Steve Dale said. In the state's eyes, that's still legally her name.
Otherwise, her only option is to get a circuit court judge to order a name change. Dale said that would be a legal document.
"I can't believe that the state has the right to just say, willy-nilly, 'We're only going to recognize the legality of the documents we choose and not these.' It's ridiculous," said Landis, who has sent a complaint letter to the governor's office.
"I'm not asking the state to recognize my marriage," she said, "but that is the proof that I have that my name has changed."
Landis married 30-year-old Augusta native Melissa Landis on Oct. 8, 2011, and went to the Social Security office in Hampton, Va., within a month to get a new card. The agency accepted her marriage certificate and issued a new card. Then she got a new driver's license.
The couple lived in Winchester, Va., until late September, when they moved to rural Hampshire County in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle to be near Melissa's family. After 30 days, state law requires new residents to surrender their old licenses and obtain West Virginia cards.
Technically, Cynthia Landis said, she's now an illegal driver, even though her Virginia license is valid through 2020.
"I expected whispers and rumors. We're from a small town in a little county. You expect people to say stuff or give you dirty looks in the grocery store," she said. "You don't expect a government entity to basically tell you that you don't exist."
The DMV understands her frustration, Dale said, "but it is up to each state to establish their own standards."