Government & Politics

DMV allows Kansas same-sex couple to change names on driver’s licenses

A Johnson County woman got her her name changed Monday to match her wife’s after being denied on two previous occasions.

Michelle Gale-Nelson and her wife, L.J. Nelson — nurses who met 18 years ago in college and were married in March — had previously been told they couldn’t change the names on their driver’s licenses at motor vehicl registration offices in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

They expected that Monday would be a repeat and planned to record it.

“We actually thought we were going to get denied. We literally had cellphone cameras ready to get denied,” Gale-Nelson said. “We literally had the (U.S. Supreme Court) ruling in our hands.”

But this time the supervisor who rejected the request in May was ready to approve the change, explaining that the Department of Revenue had sent out an email earlier in the day allowing changing the names on licenses for same-sex couples.

“He even shook our hands, apologized for the previous time that we were here, you know, and said he just didn’t want to lose his job,” Gale-Nelson said. “He had to follow the rules.”

The Kansas Department of Revenue did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State agencies had delayed updating policies to accommodate same-sex couples when a federal court struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban in November. It had continued to do so even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry.

Monday marked some shifts in that area.

Gale-Nelson said that she left the vehicle registration office in tears previously when she was told she could not add her wife’s last name to her own on her driver’s license.

“To be able to be recognized today, it puts that stamp that you are, you are a committed long-term relationship, and you’re going to share the benefits that other people have,” Gale-Nelson said.

“We have a son and a daughter,” she said. “We’re all Nelsons now.”

Also Monday, some same-sex couples received notice they would soon receive another benefit they have been waiting for.

Gretchen Mitchell, an administrative officer with Emporia State University’s human resources department, sent an email indicating that employees would be able to add their same-sex spouses to their state health plans. The email was forwarded to The Wichita Eagle.

“An official announcement to faculty and staff will be forthcoming,” she said in the email. “Effective immediately same sex marriage partners and eligible children CAN be added to SEHP coverage!! The coverage would go in to effect 8/1/15.”

Several university and state officials said that the email was sent prematurely.

Mitchell said she sent the email but added that the issue had not been finalized.

“They’re still working on it,” she said.

The university and the Kansas Board of Regents deferred comment on the issue to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the agency that oversees the health plan.

Sara Belfry, the spokeswoman for KDHE, said no decisions had been made about adding same-sex spouses to the health plan and that no start date had been determined.

“We’re still analyzing this and trying to get everything in line,” Belfry said.

Belfry said she was unsure why universities may have thought an announcement was imminent.

To reach Bryan Lowry, call 785-296-3006 or send email to On Twitter: @BryanLowry3.