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New Jersey’s Appellate Division last week established a woman’s right to adopt the surname of her lesbian partner, finding that granting the change of name does not amount to endorsing same-sex marriage. Overturning a trial judge, a three-judge panel ruled Thursday that since there was no intent of fraud or other crime, the name change should be granted in the exercise of discretion. In the Matter of the Application by Jill Iris Bacharach to Assume the Name Jill Iris Bacharach-Bordman, A-0456-00T3. “A hearing judge is not required to rubber stamp by judicial order a change of name to one that is obscene, ridiculous or racist,” wrote Judge Donald Collester Jr., joined by judges Edwin Stern and Robert Fall. “However, the exercise of discretion to deny change of name is contrary to the common law and statutory policy in favor of granting such relief.” Collester added: “To deny the applicant a statutory change of a portion of her surname to that of her same-sex partner on the hypothesis that some members of the public may be misled about the legal status of same-sex marriages in New Jersey is farfetched and inherently discriminatory.” Bacharach’s lawyer, James Sieradzki, a partner at Paterson, N.J.’s Ros & Sieradzki, says his client never intended to use her change of name to imply that she and her partner were legally married. Rather, he says, Essex County Superior Court Judge Anthony Iuliani raised the issue on his own. It was then picked up by two amicus groups who opposed the change: the American Center for Law and Justice and the Concerned Women for America. Gregory Sullivan, who represents the Concerned Women for America, says the ruling was expected. “It’s another example of the judicially driven revolution in family law,” says Sullivan, a partner at Hamilton, N.J.’s Hartsough Kenny & Chase. “Is there a secret agenda? No.” But the ruling is, he says, “certainly another step” in the push by gays and lesbians to have same-sex marriages legally recognized. The ruling will not be appealed to the state supreme court, since the amicus groups have no standing. Iuliani denied Bacharach’s application on the grounds that he believed it violated the public policy of the state to not recognize same-sex marriages. Iuliani cited M.T. v. J.T., 140 N.J. Super. 77 (1976), in which marriage was defined as a union between a man and a woman. Presently, only one state, Vermont, allows for a type of same-sex marriage. “There is no doubt in my mind that this state follows the overwhelming majority that it [same-sex marriage] is unlawful at this stage,” he said. “If this court would give even the slightest imprimatur of any legitimacy to this type of arrangement, life-term partners, it would seem to me that it is against public policy to allow that, or to even allow a perception, appearance or a recognizable union.” But the appeals court said that Iuliani’s concerns were misplaced and that precedents generally fall in favor of the person seeking the name change. The law, wrote Collester, “should not permit a judge to deny a name change based on a personal view of what is or should be the public policy of this state. Judges have no monopoly on wisdom, no clairvoyance into the public mind and no right to impose personal views or values on the citizenry of our state.” “This concern is misconceived,” Collester wrote. “Appellant and her partner can exchange rings, proclaim devotion in a public or private ceremony, call their relationship a marriage, use the same surname, adopt and rear children. All these actions may be taken in full public view. None are offensive to the laws or stated policies of this state.”

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