Florida Resident Lazaro Dinh says, An Act Of Love is reason for his name change

Monday January 28, 2013    3:26 PM

by Nicole Bennet
The Oregon Herald

UPDATE Jan 30, 2013

Florida's Department of Motor Vehicles said on Tuesday it had lifted the suspension of a South Florida man's driving license after it accused him of fraud for adopting his wife's last name.

"It was a mistake on our part," Florida DMV spokesperson Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said. "The suspension will be lifted."

The DMV stripped Boca Raton real estate investor Lazaro Dinh, 40, of his license in December after he changed his last name from Sopena to help his wife's Vietnamese family perpetuate their family surname.

Olsen-Doolan said the DMV had spoken to Dinh to let him know that his license had been mistakenly suspended and "either a man or a woman can change their name" on their driving license.

"We are doing some training to make sure understand that it can be done either way," she added.

Dinh phoned Reuters to say he had been issued a new license on Tuesday after presenting his passport at a DMV office.

"I'm still bothered that it took so long and it took so much brain damage to fix. Now I want to change the law so it's clear for the next man."

Original Story

MIAMI, Florida - It would seem the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles has no place for love. At least, the following story suggests someone in the department needs to take a pill.

The newly married South Florida man desparatly in love who opted to take his wife's last name is fighting Florida State Department of Motor Vehicles after someone in the department suspended Sopena's driving license on grounds of fraud.

Real estate investor Lazaro Sopena told the girl he loves that he would be happy to change his name after his 2011 marriage to Hanh Dinh to help his wife's Vietnamese family keep their family surname.

Not long after their marriage, Lazaro Dinh was then able to get a new passport and Social Security card and changed his bank account and credit cards before applying to update his drivers license.

"It was an act of love. I have no particular emotional ties to my last name," said Dinh, 40, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States at the age of 11 in 1984.

His wife, Hanh Dinh, 32, has four sisters and came to the U.S. in 1990, after a family trip involving living in refugee camps and being separated from her father for 7 years.

Lazaro Dinh was first issued a new license after presenting his marriage license at his local DMV office and paying a $20 fee, just as newly married women are required to do when adopting their husband's name.

"It was easy. When the government issues you a new passport you figure you're fine," he said.

More than a year later Dinh received a letter from Florida's DMV last December accusing him of "obtaining a driving license by fraud," and advising him that his license would be suspended at the end of the month. Ironically, it was addressed to Lazaro Dinh.

"I thought it was a mistake," he said.

But when he called the state DMV office in Tallahassee he said he was told he had to go to court first in order to change his name legally, a process that takes several months and has a $400 filing fee.

When he explained he was changing his name due to marriage, he was told 'that only works for men,'" he said.

"Apparently the state of Florida clings to the out-dated notion that treats women as an extension of a man," said Lazaro's lawyer, Spencer Kuvin, with Cohen & Kuvin in West Palm Beach. While it was unusual for a man to seek to be considered an extension on his wife, Dinh's case raised important issues for gay marriage, he noted.

"If Lazaro isn't allowed to change his name, what is going to happen when a gay couple seeks a name change?"

Only a few states have made their marriage name change policy gender neutral, Kuvin said. In Florida's case it has no law, although the DMV's website does not specify gender.

According to Kuvin, 9 states enable a man to change his name upon marriage: California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia and North Dakota.

The Florida DMV did not respond to a request for comment.

Following a DMV hearing, Dinh was issued a Final Order on January 14 confirming that his license had been properly suspended for fraud.

He is now appealing that order but has not dared get behind the wheel.

"I don't understand. I'm being treated like a highway criminal," said Dinh, who said he has a perfect driving record and now is struggling to carry out his job, begging his wife and friends for rides.

Dinh is appealing the order to have his license suspended, with his attorney noting that nine states allow a man to change his name upon marriage. In the meantime, Dinh is not able to legally drive.