Petula Dvorak: Frustrations of married women trying to get IDs at DMV

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By Petula Dvorak
Friday, November 6, 2009

In our security-obsessed, post-Sept. 11 world, married women are highly suspicious, especially if they are elderly.

They have been doubted, rejected and brought to tears at an alarming rate in our region's motor vehicle departments.

After I recounted the harrowing tale of Jean Earley -- 90-year-old pastel artist, minister's wife and Virginia newcomer -- and her attempts to get a state identification card, scores of others wrote to me to recount their own bureaucratic horror shows that left them red-faced.

Now, I know the DMV is low-hanging fruit. When I told my editor about the outpouring, she noted that "life's certainties are death, taxes and getting mistreated at the DMV." Only she used saltier language.

And many of the people who wrote in, including men, had deplorable stories about the way they were treated.

But I think the old rap against the DMV of long lines, unsmiling clerks and bad metal chairs has taken on a new edge.

It took Earley four visits to the Fairfax/Westfields DMV office to get an ID card. All because her birth certificate didn't have her current name on it and that, according to new state and federal laws, means it doesn't prove that she is a U.S. citizen.

For women in particular, the passage of the Real ID law, which created standardized, federal identification standards in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has made the process of documenting who they are far more complicated, frustrating and unreasonable.

"Kafkaesque," one reader called it.

"The only public office I've ever ran out of in tears," another said.

Many who wrote to me said women seem to be unfairly affected by the new scrutiny. They have to dig up marriage licenses, divorce decrees and all kinds of legal documents to prove their identity.

Many were forced to start from birth -- literally, with their birth certificates -- and reapply for Social Security cards, passports and so forth, until they satisfied the local DMV.


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