When Tara Neal went out to apply for her Real ID license, she thought it would be a snap.

It turned out to be a trap.

A teacher who lives in the Academy Gardens section of the Northeast, Neal went to the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem last Thursday to apply for a Real ID license at the PennDot office there. She didn’t get it because PennDot would not accept her marriage certificate.

Real ID is a federal law approved in 2005 that requires state driver’s licenses to be upgraded with enhanced security. I first wrote about it in 2008, when Real ID was regarded with hostility and suspicion because of questions about its cost and constitutionality. A decade later I returned to the subject, reporting that Real ID had cleared the hurdles, but Pennsylvania was tardy in setting it up and needed an extension.

Beginning in October 2020, Pennsylvanians will need Real ID driver’s licenses to board a domestic airline flight (you still will need a passport for overseas flights), or to enter a military installation or a federal facility such as a courthouse. Real ID is available now, and the best time to get it is when you are renewing your license, which is what I did. The license renewal costs $30.50, plus a onetime $30 charge for Real ID. You are not required to enroll in Real ID.

Neal, 47, brought everything the PennDot website requested: birth certificate, proof of residence, Social Security number, and marriage certificate, which proved to be a trip wire.

PennDot said her marriage certificate was unacceptable. “I am holding the marriage certificate in my hand,” says Neal, “and it says, ‘Original marriage certificate’ issued by the Clerk of the Orphans’ Court,” which is under the Register of Wills, as is Philadelphia’s Marriage License Bureau.

Why is her marriage certificate unacceptable? Because even though the document Neal is holding says it is “original,” it is not “official.” PennDot says people who were married in Philadelphia can order certified marriage certificates through the Register of Wills.

Caren Berger, the deputy in charge of litigation for the Clerk of Orphans’ Court, offers an explanation.

Those marrying in Philadelphia get a marriage certificate, or license, in three parts. The officiant keeps the top part, says Berger. The bottom portion is signed by the officiant and returned to the clerk’s office. Along with the marriage application, that becomes the certified proof of marriage.

The middle portion given to the married couple “is a keepsake with sentimental value” but no legal value, says Berger.

That explains why the state demands the certified version that is on file at City Hall.

Once Neal figured that out, her next step was to call City Hall to find out how to get the certified version that would be accepted by PennDot.

She had two options: She could come to the Marriage License Bureau office in City Hall, fill out the forms, pay $25, and wait for a staffer to make a copy of the marriage certificate, or she could mail in a request along with $40.

Why would it cost an extra $15 for mail service — especially when the city requires the applicant to provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope?

I am told that is protocol.

Protocol to you, ripoff to me.

Whatever. Neal probably will take the mail option, but mostly wants to warn others that what they think is a certified marriage certificate may not be that at all.