ACLU Defends Woman Denied Right to Change Her Name Because of Same-Sex Relationship

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
September 21, 2000 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed an appeal on behalf of a woman who was denied the right to change her name to include the last name of her life partner because she is in a same-sex relationship.

“There are only a limited number of legitimate reasons that a court should deny a name change, such as where a person is attempting to evade prosecution or debts,” said J.C. Salyer, staff attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey. “By considering an applicant’s sexual orientation, the court stepped over the line.”

According to the ACLU, courts in New Jersey routinely grant name changes. Consequently, when Jill Bacharach applied to change her name, she thought it would be a simple matter of filing some paperwork and documenting that she was not changing her name for some illicit purpose, such as attempting to evade criminal prosecution or creditors.

Bacharach was shocked when Essex County Judge Anthony J. Iuliani denied her application because he feared it would create the appearance that she and her partner, also a woman, were married.

“I never expected this sort of discrimination from a court of law,” said Bacharach. “I hoped our country had moved beyond treating people differently because of their sexual orientation.”

At an August 10, 2000 hearing, when questioned on her reason for changing her name, Bacharach said that she considered her partner her family and wanted them to share the same last name.

Judge Iuliani questioned Bacharach about her relationship with her partner and their living arrangements, even asking if both partners’ names were on their lease. Bacharach said she felt the judge’s questions were irrelevant and invasive. The judge ultimately denied Bacharach’s application.

The ACLU filed the notice of appeal with the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division. Bacharach is represented by James P. Sieradzki of the Paterson firm Ros & Sieradzki and J.C. Salyer and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU of NJ.

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