I support Nikki Araguz.
The wife of a Wharton firefighter who died in a massive July 4 blaze decried allegations lodged by her late husband’s family that she is a fraud because she was born a man.
“Really, all I have to say is that I’m absolutely devastated about the loss of my husband, a fallen firefighter named Thomas Araguz III, and horrified at the horrendous allegations accusing me of fraud because they are absolutely not true,” Nikki Araguz said on Thursday. “And that is all I have to say.”
She spoke briefly at the law office of Phyllis Frye, a transgender attorney, who said her six-lawyer firm is poised to fight the family’s lawsuit. Moments after her statement, Araguz stood up in tears and walked out of the news conference.
See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the current status of the case. I’m not interested in the question of what Thomas Araguz did or did not know about his wife. The lawyers and the court can sort that out. What I do care about is the argument being made that Nikki was never legally married to Thomas. As we already know, the issue of what a person’s gender is according to the law is already complicated. The legal upshot of this case, if Thomas’ mother and first wife win, would be to effectively bar transgender people in Texas from being legally able to marry at all. That’s just wrong. Here’s a statement I received from Equality Texas:
We, the attendees of the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, issue this statement to demonstrate our support for Mrs. Nikki Araguz and to call attention to her plight and that of all transgender people in the state of Texas.
Mrs. Nikki Araguz legally married a man, and her marriage has been recognized under the laws of the state of Texas. Nikki’s husband, a fireman in Wharton County, tragically was killed in the line of duty, and now other parties are attempting to use the courts to have her marriage legally overturned in an effort to deny her inheritance and insurance.
These parties are claiming that Nikki is not legally a woman under Texas law. Nikki’s opponents are attempting to use an obscure Texas case, Littleton v. Prange (1999), to declare that her marriage should be invalid. The Littleton case says that a person’s gender is determined by chromosomes, not physical attributes. The Littleton case was decided to deny a transgender woman her right to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of her husband – even though Littleton had legally changed her gender and had been legally married in Texas.
The Littleton case was wrongfully decided at the time, and if taken literally stands for the proposition that a transgender person cannot marry anyone, of either gender, under Texas law. Clearly, this is wrong. Denying anyone the right to marry whom they love is a violation of the most basic freedoms under our laws. To deny the validity of an existing, legal marriage, after one of the spouses has died, as justification for the redistribution of inheritance and insurance, is abhorrent to the values of common decency, fair play, and justice that most Texans hold dear.
We, the attendees of this Summit, extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Araguz, and call for the swift dismissal of this lawsuit so that Mrs. Araguz may be left to mourn her loss in private without distraction or worry for her financial stability.
If necessary, we also call for the courts to consider the Littleton case superseded by the recent changes to the Texas Family Code that recognize a court ordered gender change as definitive proof of identity.
Sadly, discrimination against people because of either their gender identity or expression is common. There are few laws in the state of Texas to address this need. The purpose of our Summit is to find ways to help people confront and overcome the issues now facing all transgender people in Texas and, tragically, Mrs. Nikki Araguz.
I stand with them, and with Nikki Araguz, on this matter.