They signed their Christmas cards 'Michael and Diana Bijon.' But California authorities said his driver's license had to have his given name, Michael Buday. Today, the California man who tried for two years to take his wife's surname as his own got a new driver's license that made it official.

Settlement agreements with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Health Services (DHS) allowed Buday - now Bijon - to close the book on his old name and deliver on a promise he made to his bride on their wedding day: to honor her family by taking her name.

'This was an easy choice for Diana and me to make; I never imagined the state would make it so difficult,' said Michael Bijon. 'It was a symbolic gesture, but it's also very real for us. It's about what our children will be named, about starting a new family on our own terms. For us, it was very traditional.'

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Southern California and the firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP in December 2006, drew nationwide attention and alleged sex-based discrimination in the issuing of California marriage and drivers' licenses, because the agencies responsible allowed a woman to take her husband's last name but prevented a husband from choosing to adopt the family surname of his wife.

'What's in a name is the message that a marriage is a union between equals,' said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU/SC. 'These settlements dispose of the rule in California that the male surname is the marital name to the same trash bin where dowries were once tossed out. California now has a marriage license for the 21st Century, not the 15th Century.'

Because of the settlements, DMV personnel received additional training in how to follow DMV policy to help husbands, wives and domestic partners change the names on their drivers' licenses according to their wishes. In addition, since January 1, the DHS began using a new marriage license application form that requires the exact same information from both the bride and groom, in addition to each person's current last name.

'The ACLU and Milbank were pleased to be able to work closely with the DMV to change the policies and practices so that men can take their wives' names at all California DMVs with the same ease as a woman adopting her husband's name,' said Milbank attorney Hannah Cannom.

The lawsuit also led to a new state law guaranteeing the rights of both married couples and registered domestic partners to choose their own names. When the Name Equality Act takes effect in 2009, California will join six other states that recognize the importance of gender-neutral naming rights.

'Women have fought for so long for equal rights, and it feels like this is part of that fight,' said Diana Bijon. 'When we got married, the law basically said, 'Don't be silly, only a woman can change her name when she gets married.' I'm proud to be part of changing that.'

And the step the Bijons took today is more than symbolic.

'There are real consequences to being denied the right to take your spouse's name,' Rosenbaum said. 'Some are minor annoyances; some are life-changing. If your child or spouse is in an emergency room, you shouldn't be stopped outside the door because the name on your driver's license doesn't match. This is too important to leave up to a DMV employee or someone behind a desk at the county courthouse.'

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