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Ordinarily, an application for a name change is not on the cutting edge of civil rights law. But a state judge’s denial of a lesbian’s petition to take her same-sex partner’s name has the ACLU gearing up for a constitutional challenge. At issue is whether a name may be changed to reflect a same-sex relationship, when New Jersey does not recognize marriages between same-sex partners. On Aug. 10, Essex County Judge Anthony Iuliani denied an application by Jill Bacharach to change her last name to a hyphenated version that would include the last name of her lesbian partner. According to Bacharach’s attorney, James Sieradzki of Clifton, N.J.’s Ros & Sieradzki, Iuliani denied the name change because it would create the impression that Bacharach was married when the state does not recognize same-sex marriages. Iuliani, a recall judge, did not issue a written opinion. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is helping Sieradzki appeal the denial of Bacharach’s name-change application to the Appellate Division. “The statute and common law allow for people to change their names,” says J.C. Salyer, a staff attorney for the ACLU, which filed a notice of appeal last Thursday. “The judge shouldn’t be allowed to let personal tastes or preferences enter into the decision.” The grounds for denying a name change are limited, says Salyer. People can’t change a name to evade creditors or avoid criminal prosecution, and a name change may be denied if it creates unworkable bureaucratic problems, as in the case of an unusually long name, he adds. But a judge can’t deny an application based on sexual orientation, contends Salyer. The ACLU will argue that Iuliani’s ruling was not only improper based on the statute itself, but was a violation of equal protection rights and of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Although Sieradzki says this is the first time he’s seen a name-change application denied, he knew that Bacharach’s reason for the change was unique. He says Iuliani gave him an opportunity to argue why the name change was legitimate before denying the application. According to Sieradzki, Bacharach wanted the name change to show unity and family commitment between her and her lesbian partner. Bacharach and her partner do not have any children, says Sieradzki. Citing privacy concerns, Sieradzki and the ACLU will not give out the name of Bacharach’s lesbian partner, or the town where the two of them live, although that information would have been contained in Bacharach’s application for the name change. Iuliani was away from his chambers late Thursday afternoon and Friday, and could not be reached for comment.

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