A woman who recently relocated from California says the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue her an accurate driver’s license because her last name was changed through a same-sex marriage.
After Connie Wilson married her partner of nine years in California last year, she took her wife’s last name, Wilson, which now appears on both her California driver’s license and her Social Security card, in addition to all of the couple’s financial and medical records.
This summer, the couple relocated to the Houston area with their three children for work. With her California driver’s license nearing expiration, Wilson took her documents to a DPS office in Katy last week to obtain a Texas driver’s license. When a DPS employee noticed that Wilson’s name didn’t match her birth certificate, she produced the couple’s California marriage license identifying her spouse as Aimee Wilson.
“Her only words to me were, ‘Is this same-[sex]?'” Connie Wilson recalled. “I remember hesitating for probably 10 seconds. I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to lie, but I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t going to be able to get a license.”
Wilson eventually responded that although California doesn’t differentiate, she happened to be married to a woman.
“She immediately told me, ‘You can’t use this to get your license. This doesn’t validate your last name. Do you have anything else?’” Wilson said. “She told me I would never get a license with my current name, that the name doesn’t belong to me.”
Texas has both a state statute and a constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. However, Wilson contends she isn’t asking DPS to recognize her marriage, but rather trying to obtain an accurate driver’s license reflecting her legal name according to the state of California and the U.S. government.
“I’ve been deprived the freedom to drive a vehicle once my current California driver’s license expires,” Wilson said. “I’m further being deprived the freedom to use air travel, make purchases that require a valid photo identification, seek medical attention for myself or my children, as well as other situations that would require proving who I am legally as an individual.”
Wilson said the DPS employee, who turned out to be a supervisor, suggested that she should apply for a driver’s license using her maiden name. However, Wilson said she lacks the necessary documentation to do so.
The DPS supervisor later told her she could apply for a Texas license if she obtains an order from a state court changing her name to Wilson. But Wilson said obtaining such an order would cost at least $500 and there’s no guarantee the petition would be successful.
“My name is already legally Wilson,” she said. “I don’t know if a judge will even grant me a name change from Wilson to Wilson.”
In response to inquiries from the Observer, DPS confirmed that people moving to Texas from other states can’t obtain driver’s licenses listing their married names using same-sex marriage licenses.
“To receive a Texas Driver License or Identification Card reflecting a name change from a same-sex marriage, a court order is required,” a DPS spokesman said in a statement.
Among other things, Wilson said the pending expiration of her California license has threatened her family’s ability to close on a house in Texas. It could also jeopardize the couple’s ability to obtain disability benefits for one of their children, who has both autism and Down syndrome.
“I still can’t believe I’m being met with all the roadblocks that I am,” Wilson said. “For the first time in my life, I in a minuscule way know what it feels like for a person who is undocumented, how terrifying it must be to function in day-to-day life. It terrifies me—I’m a U.S. citizen—the fact that I can’t get something that I’ve had all my life, that I assume is my right. My right was taken away.”
Wilson has contacted Equality Texas, which is now working with Houston Sen. Sylvia Garcia’s office on the issue.
“This is a disappointing incident and certainly not reflective of Texas hospitality or values,” Equality Texas field organizer Daniel Williams told the Observer this week. “Equality Texas is working to resolve this matter quickly.”
By Friday, however, it appeared DPS was digging in its heels. Paul Townsend, general counsel for Sen. Garcia, said he was waiting for a written explanation of the agency’s position before issuing a formal response.
“It’s frustrating because I don’t know what exactly’s going on and DPS is not really being responsive,” Townsend said.
Townsend noted the DPS website says existing Texas residents can’t use same-sex marriage licenses from others states to update their licenses. However, he said there is no posted policy regarding new Texas residents whose names have already been changed.
“If nothing else, it seems like they’re doing a bad job of being transparent and providing that information to people up front,” he said.
Wilson vowed to obtain an accurate Texas driver’s license one way or another, and said she now plans to file a lawsuit against DPS.
“I don’t want any other person to go through what I have experienced over this,” she said.