Judge Decides Transgender Widow's Marriage Was Illegal

Illustration for article titled Judge Decides Transgender Widow's Marriage Was Illegal

A Texas judge has announced that he plans to nullify the marriage of a transgender woman whose firefighter husband died in the line of duty, on the grounds that they had an illegal same-sex marriage. His family is fighting the widow for inheritance, but the case is also a setback for transgender rights in the state.

Nikki Araguz, who was born Justin Graham Purdue, married Thomas Trevino Araguz III in 2008, and had had a sex change operation two months later. Thomas died while fighting a fire last summer, and now his family and ex-wife, Heather Delgado, are now battling his widow for $600,000 in death benefits and assets, according to the Associated Press. They argue that the inheritance should go to Thomas' two young sons from his marriage to Delgado because his marriage to Nikki was never valid.

In a draft order issued on Tuesday, District Judge Randy Clapp said he's found that "any marriage between Thomas Araguz and Nikki Araguz was void as a matter of law" and Thomas "was not married at the time of his death." At issue is when Nikki legally became female, and when when Thomas found out she's transgender. In an interview with 20/20 Nikki says she told Thomas that she was born male a week into their relationship, and he supported her during the process of getting a sex change operation. His mother, Simona Longoria, and Delgado paint Nikki as a con-artist, and claim Thomas only learned Nikki's gender history shortly before his death, and was totally shocked. They say after he found out he immediately moved out and planned to get a divorce. Longoria and Delgado claim they were duped by Nikki, but it seems they're actually having a hard time accepting that Thomas chose to marry a transgender woman and didn't tell them about her past. Their argument is ridiculous; They seem to think Thomas simply didn't pick up on any signs that Nikki once had male genitalia, even though he had been to her childhood home where photos of Justin hang on the walls, had a sexual relationship with her, and was married to her while she had a sex change operation.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki's lawyer argued that her marriage was legal because the Texas Family Code allows transgender people to obtain a marriage license if they've had a sex change recognized by the court (Republican legislators are working to repeal this law). The family's attorney countered with a 1999 Texas case that says a person's chromosomes, not their genitals, determine the sex at birth.

Nikki had her California birth certificate reissued shortly after Thomas' death to say that she's female. The family's lawyer says this is irrelevant because, "At the time of the marriage, Ms. Araguz was a man." However, Nikki's attorney says the document reflects that she was always female. "For all purposes, she's female going back to the date of her birth," he says. "She could have gotten that (reissued) birth certificate at any time in California." Obviously the judge disagrees, but Nikki says she plans to appeal and is willing to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. She adds, "With this ruling I continue to be reminded of the bias that exists toward transsexual and intersex people ignoring the laws of Texas that recognize their medical and surgical transition."

Lawyer: Transgender Widow's Marriage To Be Voided [AP]
Texas Judge Set To Rule On Validity Of Firefighter's Marriage To Transgendered Woman, Death Benefits [ABC News]
Judge: Transgender Widow's Marriage To Firefighter Not Valid [Houston Chronicle]
Wharton Judge Rules Against Nikki Araguz [Dallas Voice]

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Earlier: Texas May Ban Transgender Marriages

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DISCUSSION

thealogian-old
Thealogian

This is awful—it is so interesting to see how his family has tried to rewrite their son's personal history (in implausible, backwards logic, at that)! This does, though, remind me of that plot twist in Weeds where MLP's character marries the DA agent and then when he dies, the benefits go to MLP instead of the surviving child/ex-wife. MLP, also a widow, realized that it was screwed up, tried to make it right, but her crazy drug dealing world resulted in even more hijinks, etc. This case is important for transgender rights and also for marriage equality, but at the same time, minor children are involved and some means of support needs to go their way. I don't want an injustice on either side, but it only seems like and either/or here. Whatever the ruling, it once again demonstrates the POWER of marriage and attending benefits must be afforded to all...and that minor children must be provided for in separate legal agreements when you have a blended family.