Attorneys continue marriage equality battles

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – Three South Carolina residents who were denied driver’s licenses under their married names are suing the state Department of Vehicles, asking that the agency be forced to treat same-sex spouses who change their names the same as it does heterosexual couples.

Burnette Shutt & McDaniel attorneys Nekki Shutt, M Malissa Burnette and Jax Pavlicek are representing the three on behalf of SC Equality.

Shutt, Burnette and Pavlicek have been involved in other marriage equality litigation, including a lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court paving the way for same-sex marriage in South Carolina.

The nation’s highest court last week denied South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s request that the state be allowed more time to appeal a lower court’s ruling in Condon v Wilson that struck down the Palmetto State’s same-sex marriage ban.

“In this week of Thanksgiving, we in the Palmetto State are thankful that same-sex couples at last are free to marry and have the protections they need to care for their families,” Shutt said.

Suit against DMV

All three plaintiffs in the separate lawsuit against DMV were legally wed in states that recognize same-sex marriage. All three presented the South Carolina DMV with valid driver’s licenses from another state reflecting their name change. Two of them, Judy Haas and Damari Indart, also provided Social Security cards issued in their married names.

The third plaintiff, Brandon Valdez, at first was issued a South Carolina license under his married name but was called within hours and told to return to DMV or his license would be revoked. The license was re-issued under his former last name.

In the case Haas v DMV, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the plaintiffs ask that the DMV policy of refusing to issue licenses for same-sex couples who change their names be declared a violation of their rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments.

Not having driver’s licenses issued in their legal names has potentially serious ramifications, Burnette said. “From obtaining a passport to cashing a check or using a credit card, there are many things we do in life that require a valid government ID. Countless South Carolinians are denied the right to have that ID issued under their legal names simply because they’re married to someone of the same sex.”

Situations such as Haas’ and Indart’s, where the names on their driver’s license and Social Security cards don’t match, can cause problems in the future if earnings are not reported under the proper name, Pavlicek added. Problems also can crop up if the name on tax documents doesn’t match the name attached to the Social Security number, she added.

Burnette and Shutt, two of the founding partners at Burnette Shutt & McDaniel,  handle a range of employment law cases, including discrimination, equal rights and employee benefits. Pavlicek focuses her practice on appellate work and litigation.