updated 7/27/2004 9:49:15 AM ET 2004-07-27T13:49:15

A man who married his partner of 23 years after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts now is having trouble getting a new passport.

Donald Henneberger, formerly Donald Smith, recently received a letter from the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, N.H., denying his request for a name change on his passport. The center said it would not recognize a marriage license for a same-sex couple as proof of a name change.

The center addressed the letter to “Mr. Henneberger.”

Henneberger married his partner Arthur Henneberger in May, when same-sex marriages became legal in the Bay State. On the marriage license, the couple checked a box that automatically changes the last names of the partners to whatever they request.

The letter from the National Passport Center cites the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which states a marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and a spouse can only refer to a person of the opposite sex.

Back to court?
Donald Henneberger said he had no trouble with the Social Security Administration, another federal agency, when he requested a card in his new name.

He and his partner now have gone to Probate Court to get further proof of Henneberger’s name change.

“The woman at Probate Court said, ’What do you want to do — change your name to Henneberger? It’s already Henneberger,”’ Donald Henneberger said.

Rep. Richard Neal’s office advised the Hennebergers to return to court, and this time the court would initiate the name change. The couple had sought the Democratic congressman’s help.

“You have to publicize your intent, demonstrate that you are not changing your name for fraudulent purposes and then you have to appear before a judge,” said Jennifer Levi, a professor at Western New England School of Law. She said the Probate Court name-change process is cumbersome.

Henneberger balks at spending $180 in court fees and waiting for the eight-week process to run its course.

“It’s discriminatory,” he said.

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