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Nikki Araguz

By the way, Dave Wilson also hates transgender people

I mean, no surprise, right? What’s more, he puts his money where his mouth is.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Now, anti-LGBT activist Dave Wilson is circulating another petition that would place a charter amendment on the ballot to repeal trans protections in both HERO and Mayor Annise Parker’s 2012 executive order covering city employees.

Wilson, of Houstonians For Family Values, led efforts to pass a charter amendment prohibiting domestic partner benefits in 2001. He also made headlines in 2013 when he deceived voters into thinking he was black to get elected to the Houston Community College board.

Houston resident Sheri Taylor Bockelman, the mother of trans activist Nikki Araguz, said she received the petition in the mail along with a letter from Wilson on Saturday. (View images of the mailing below.)

“Enclosed please find our petition to prohibit men from using the women’s restroom and women from using the men’s restroom,” Wilson’s letter states. “Yes, you read the first sentence correctly.”

The letter goes on to state that both HERO and the executive order prohibiting discrimination against trans city employees “allow men to use the women’s restroom if they perceive or express themselves as women.”

See here for some background. Unless I’m confused, the executive order in question was in 2010, not 2012. There’s an image of Wilson’s latest mailer at the link above. Note that it is dated January 9, which means that it’s a separate expense from the one recorded in the January 15 finance report of his PAC. We won’t know till July how much he dropped on this one. If his address database includes people like Nikki Araguz’s mom, it’s highly likely that most of what he’s spending will be wasted. Which is fine by me – I hope he keeps it up till he bankrupts himself. TransGriot has more.

Not really related to this but worth including: We don’t really know much about the state of the transgender community in America, but what we do know tells us that these people face a lot of obstacles. I for one favor doing what we can to remove those obstacles. I definitely do not favor adding more of them. Finally, if you haven’t already done so, go read Nancy Sims’ account of how she came to understand and love her transgender child.

Nikki Araguz case reinstated

Good.

Nikki Araguz Loyd

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.

See here and here for more on the case, and here for some background on Nikki Araguz. You can see a copy of the opinion here. Lone Star Q fills in some details.

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.

Texas Monthly on transgender marriage in Texas

It’s way more complicated than it needs to be.

Nikki Araguz and William Loyd

Here’s a stumper: Is it legal for a transgender person—say, someone whose original birth certificate says “male,” but who identifies as a woman—to get married to a man who identifies as a man?

The law in Texas is unclear in ways that have been a nightmare for Nikki Araguz, a transgender Houston woman whose husband, Thomas Araguz, died in 2010 while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Wharton County. Araguz has been fighting in court since her husband’s death for survivor’s benefits, and [recently], her case was heard by the 13th Court of Appeals.

Why is the law unclear?

In 2005, Proposition 2 passed in Texas. That constitutional amendment said that “marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” Some folks, including 329th District Judge Randy Clapp (using precedent established by the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals decision in Littleton v. Prange, look at Nikki Araguz and see a man; thus, the marriage for which she seeks benefits as her husband’s widow was a same-sex marriage that is not recognized in Texas.

This is complicated, though, by legislation authored by State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). That legislation, which passed in 2009, allowed that a court order establishing a change in sex was an acceptable document when presenting identification to obtain a marriage license. If proof of gender reassignment surgery is sufficient to grant one a marriage license, then it stands to reason that the marriage of Nikki and Thomas Araguz is legal in Texas.

[…]

The hearing on that appeal happened last week, but the ruling has no timetable yet. And in the meantime, confusion continues to reign. In 2010, Sabrina Hill, a woman who was born intersex (that is, with both male and female genitalia) and declared male on her birth certificate though she identifies as female, applied for a marriage license to marry her girlfriend. A judge’s order, following gender-reassignment surgery, recognized Hill as a woman, but when applying for the license, Therese Bur, the El Paso clerk couldn’t determine whether to use Hill’s birth certificate and issue a license as a heterosexual marriage, or to use the court order and deny it as a same-sex marriage. The clerk turned to Attorney General Greg Abbott for direction, and Abbott declined to weigh in. (Hill and Bur instead went to San Antonio,where they were granted a license.)

It’s probably for the best that they did—if they’d waited for a final decision on Nikki Araguz’s case to settle things (she’s on her second appeal, having lost once in 2012), the now 63-year-old Hill would have no end in sight, regarding how long she’d be waiting.

The article in question is from a few weeks back; I had it in my queue but never got around to publishing my post. I’ve written about this subject before. As the story notes, Rep. Kolkhorst has made two attempts to amend her 2009 bill in a way that would essentially forbid transgendered folks from getting married. To me, it’s very simple: If two adults love each other and one or the other is not engaging in fraudulent behavior, they should be allowed to get married. That would clear up this confusion once and for all. Until that enlightened day arrives, I fully support any couple that wants to take advantage of the situation as it now stands. Congratulations, Nikki and William. May the courts and the Legislature not rain on your happiness.

Judge rules against Nikki Araguz

This is unfortunate.

A judge has ruled that the marriage between a Wharton fire captain killed in the line of duty and his transgender wife was not legal, an attorney in the case said Tuesday.

Frank Mann III, one of the attorneys representing family members of Thomas Trevino Araguz III, said he had received notice from the office of State District Judge Randy Clapp that the judge ruled in his client’s favor.

“It is our understanding, having read a draft order circulated by Judge Clapp, that he has ruled that any marriage between Thomas Araguz and Nikki Araguz is void as a matter of law,” Mann said in a prepared statement sent by email a few minutes after 5 p.m., when the judge’s office was closed. Mann said he had a proposed order from the judge but was not allowed to circulate it.

[…]

Noel Freeman, president of the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Political Caucus, said by phone that the news was very disappointing, given that Nikki Araguz had presented legal documents, including her reissued birth certificate, showing she is female.

“Here you have a birth certificate, a legally binding document, which the court has chosen to completely ignore,” Freeman said. “The transgender community jumps through a lot of legal hoops — records of sex changes, amended birth certificates – to try to live the same life that everybody else gets to live. This is a very frustrating setback.”

See here for some background. This will be appealed, and we’re a long way from getting any kind of resolution. The issues here are a lot more complicated than they need to be.

Steidley, representing Nikki Araguz, argued that the marriage was legal because a 2009 change in the Texas Family Code allows a person to get a marriage license on the basis of a sex change recognized by the court.

But Burwell said the 2009 change in the family code did not overturn a 1999 Texas case, Littleton v. Prange, which is typically cited in Texas as the basis for determining a person’s sex. That case held that a person’s gonads, genitalia and chromosomes determine sex at birth.

The problem with that argument, of course, is that you can’t always determine someone’s gender at birth. Some people are born with the gonads, genitalia, and chromosomes of both sexes. What has usually happened is that they have surgery while they are still infants to assign one gender or another to them. Sometimes, the surgeon who did this guessed wrong about what gender the person “should” be, and that person corrects it later in life. Others have chosen to live with it. Different approaches are sometimes taken today, but the basic point remains that gender is more of a continuum than a binary option, and it’s more of a social construct than a biological one.

Our attempt to force the social construct of gender into our laws has led to contradictions, which is why the El Paso County Clerk asked AG Greg Abbott for an opinion about whether or not it was legal to issue a marriage license to a transgender woman who wanted to marry another woman. Going by the logic of “you are the sex you were at birth”, the answer is yes, but our laws against gay marriage say no. Abbott took the easy way out and declined to offer an opinion because of pending litigation like this, but the underlying issue remains unsettled, as the Lege did not address that 2009 law this session. The simplest answer to all of this, of course, is to quit dictating who can and cannot get married to whom and just allow any two consenting adults to get a marriage license. Do that and all these thorny legal questions magically disappear. Organized religions are still free to impose their own restrictions, but the state of Texas, and every other state, should not. In the meantime, our twisted reasoning has led to a situation where transgender folks could be not allowed to marry anyone at all. I would hope that a court will eventually rule against this unconstitutional mess. It’s just a shame that people will have to keep suffering for our poor lawmaking until then.

Abbott declines to offer transgender marriage opinion

Remember this, from back in May?

The El Paso County attorney wants the state’s top lawyer to tell her whether she can issue a marriage certificate to a woman and a biological male who had a sex change operation to become a woman.

County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, in a letter sent last month, asked Attorney General Greg Abbott if the Texas ban on gay marriage prevents her from giving a marriage license to Sabrina Hill, who was born Virgil Eugene Hill, underwent sex change surgery in 1991, and is now seeking to marry a woman.

In February of this year, Hill and another woman asked the El Paso County Clerk for a marriage license. As proof of identification, Hill offered a New York birth certificate identifying her as a male, a Washington State court order changing her name to Sabrina, and an Arizona driver’s license that identified her as a female.

In the end, Abbott demurred.

In a letter formally declining the opinion request, Abbott’s office said it would not issue an opinion because a case currently in court could clear up the question. A transgender woman in Wharton is fighting in court for benefits from her deceased husband’s estate. The family of Thomas Araguz, a Wharton firefighter, argues he was unaware that his wife was born a man. They want his marriage to Nikki Araguz voided, and they want all his assets to go to his two young sons. “It is the policy of this office to refrain from issuing an attorney general opinion on an issue that we know to be the subject of pending litigation,” wrote Nancy Fuller, chairwoman of the AG’s opinion committee. “If any of the legal issues in this opinion request remain unresolved at the conclusion of the lawsuit, you may submit a request to resolve those issues.”

Guess we’ll never know what he would have said. I just wonder if he considers himself lucky or unlucky for letting the court have first crack at it. And while I agree with the Statesman that this should ultimately be up to the Lege to fix, I can’t help but shudder a little at the thought. Still, it is what needs to be done.

Nikki Araguz

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.