Lesbian Couple Asks Supreme Court To Allow For Common Last Name

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A lesbian couple should be allowed to change their individual last names to one they created because the applications for the name change were not fraudulent, an attorney told the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday.

"It's abundantly clear ... that their only goal is having the same last name of their children," said Scott Knox, an attorney for Belinda Lou Priddy and Jennifer Lane Bicknell of Hamilton. "There's no indication of fraud here."

The Supreme Court has held that people have the right to adopt names of their choosing as long as the change is not fraudulent. However, lower courts refused to approve the change for Priddy and Bicknell, saying that permitting the new name would violate the state's public policy against recognizing same-sex relationships.

Priddy, 31, and Bicknell, 33, filed individual applications in 1999 to have their last names changed to "Rylen" so they could share a common family name with the children they are raising.

The couple, who have lived together for 11 years, created the name by combining several letters from each of their last names.

Priddy was artificially inseminated last year and gave birth to triplets in September. One of the children, a boy, died. The two girls, Sarah and Lindsay, have the last name of Rylen.

"We want to be considered a family. We want to have the same last name as our children ... for unity," Bicknell said after the hearing as she cradled a sleeping Sarah in her arms. "We're not asking to get married. We're not asking for any legal benefits."

The couple argues that the Butler County Probate Court and the 12th Ohio District Court of Appeals denied their requests arbitrarily and violated their rights of equal protection of the law and to raise their children as they determine appropriate.

The courts ruled that granting the request would give an "aura of propriety and official sanction to their cohabitation," thereby undermining Ohio's public policy promoting legal marriage.

Ohio law does not recognize marriages between partners of the same sex.

Knox told the justices that courts improperly based their decisions on their personal disapproval of the couple's relationship, and that it's not the courts' role to determine state policy when deciding whether to grant name change requests.

"If there is no fraud and once you show reasonable and proper cause, the name changes should be allowed," he said after the hearing.

He told the justices that the lower courts' rulings were a departure from those in other similar cases in Ohio.

"These women have really been in a looking glass world where they have really had to fight to do what courts want them to do -- what's in the best interest of the child," he said.

The applications for name changes were unopposed. However, the conservative American Family Association of Ohio told the justices that the Supreme Court would be giving its approval to unmarried cohabitative relationships by allowing the name changes.

David R. Langdon, the group's attorney, said that would go against the state's public policy that couples living together should be married.

"What they are doing in asking the court to approve their name change is asking the court to approve a lifestyle that goes against public policy," Langdon said.

Justice Paul Pfeifer asked: "Aren't you asking the court to discriminate against a lifestyle you find obnoxious?"

Langdon replied: "Yes, I am."

Moreover, Langdon said the courts should have discretion when approving name changes.

"If fraud is the only determination, then name changes would be rubber-stamped," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)