A transgender woman who was denied benefits after her firefighter husband died in the line of duty will get another chance to litigate the case in a state district courtroom, the 13th Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Nikki Araguz has been on feminizing hormone therapy since age 18 and in 1996 successfully petitioned the 245th state District Court of Harris County to have her name changed, court documents state. Later that year, she changed her birth certificate in California to change her gender to female.
She married Thomas Araguz in August 2008, after presenting a Texas driver’s license to the Wharton County Clerk’s Office stating she was female. At the time of the wedding, she still had male sex organs, but she underwent genital reassignment surgery two months later, court documents state.
As first reported Thursday in the San Antonio Express-News, the appellate court, based in Corpus Christi and Edinburg, voided the state district court judge’s summary judgment in favor or Thomas Araguz’s parents and ordered the case returned to the original courtroom for further litigation.
“… We conclude that the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding Nikki’s sex and whether the marriage was a same sex marriage,” Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez wrote in the 26-page ruling for the case.
State district Judge Randy Clapp issued a summary judgment declaring the marriage void in 2011. But on Thursday, the 13th District Court of Appeals threw out the summary judgment and remanded the case to Clapp for further proceedings.
“We conclude that this was an error because, on the record before us, the question of Nikki’s sex is a disputed issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment,” Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez wrote.
The opinion goes on to say that the Legislature passed a law in 2009 making proof of sex change one of the documents people can use to obtain a marriage license in Texas. According to the court, this law’s passage had the effect of overturning another state appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, in which a transgender widow’s marriage was declared void based on her birth sex.
The 13th District also said Clapp failed to give adequate weight to an expert’s affidavit saying Araguz has “gender dysphoria” and explaining the condition.
So the good news is that her case is alive and the courts recognized that Texas law allowed for her wedding to be legal. The bad news is that legality hinges on the question of whether she was female in the eyes of the state at the time, and the case will go back to the district court to settle that question. What fun that will be to litigate. The issue is complicated – needlessly so, since the state of Texas refuses to allow two consenting adults to just go ahead and get married if they want to – and I’m sure in the current environment it will be politicized by the kind of people who think their own lives will be ruined if people like Nikki Araguz have the same rights as they do. Still, this is a positive development, and I continue to wish Nikki Araguz all the best in her fight. The Dallas Voice has more.