In Nikki Araguz case, Texas court rules trans people have a right to marry, can wed opposite-sex partners if they have a sex change
CORPUS CHRISTI — In a landmark decision this week, a Texas appeals court ruled that transgender people have a right to marry.
The decision came in the case of Houston widow Nikki Araguz Loyd, who was fighting to have her marriage to late husband, Thomas Araguz III, recognized by the state in order to receive his death benefits. Thomas Araguz was a volunteer firefighter in Wharton and was killed in the line of duty in 2010.
Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, later sued to have the marriage declared void so she would receive widow’s benefits instead of Araguz Loyd. Delgado claimed that she needed the benefits to provide for her two children with Thomas Araguz.
The 13th District Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi ruled Thursday that the marriage was valid because Araguz Loyd, declared male at birth, had a sex change and her original California birth certificate amended to reflect the change.
The ruling is the first time a Texas appeals court has ruled that transgender people have a right to marry.
Araguz Loyd, who is now married to William Loyd, told Dallas Voice the ruling was historic and came just in time for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s without a doubt a landmark ruling for transgender people in Texas,” she said.
“I felt relieved and vindicated and excited,” she said about when she read the decision. “I couldn’t be more happy the day before Valentine’s Day to receive this news that my love has been recognized by the Texas court.”
The appellate court opinion voided the 2011 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.
That ruling by Houston state district Judge Randy Clapp found that Araguz Loyd was born male and Texas’ 2005 marriage amendment prevented the state from recognizing her marriage to a man. Her 2008 marriage to her Thomas Araguz III then became invalid.
But Clapp’s ruling hinged on the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals decision in Littleton v. Prange, which found that since a male who transitioned to female was born male, she was therefore still male. Her marriage to a male was therefore invalid because same-sex marriages are invalid under state law.
The Texas Legislature opened the door for transgender marriage in 2009 when it added affidavit of a sex change to the identification documents people can present to obtain a marriage license. Legislation was filed in the state Legislature in 2011 in response to Araguz
Loyd’s case and again in 2013 to prevent the affidavit from being used to obtain a marriage license, but the bills failed.
Araguz Loyd said her joy Thursday also came from knowing that the Littleton case was overturned, and it couldn’t be used to invalidate her or other people’s marriages.
“It legitimizes my relationship with my late husband and only further protects my current marriage,” she said of the ruling, adding that she expects success in further proceedings for the death benefits. “We are going to fight all the way to victory.”
Houston attorney Kent Rutter, the lead attorney for the appeal, said the opinion means trans people in Texas who’ve had a sex change can marry someone of the opposite sex.
“I think it’s a significant victory for trans people in Texas because it recognizes that the law is the opposite of what it was back in 1999,” he said. “The law used to be if you were born with male anatomy, you were considered male your entire life and could never marry someone who is born male. And now that’s different today. “
Rutter said there will be more court proceedings for Araguz Loyd in the matter of her late husband’s death benefits, but he said her win in court this week is a victory for the entire Texas trans community.
“This is the first time a Texas court has recognized that trans people have a right to marry, so that’s a very big deal,” Rutter said. “I think it’s a significant victory for trans people in Texas.”
Despite the win and the recognition on a state level, the ruling brings into question whether same-sex couples where one person is trans can marry or will face legal issues in the future if their spouse dies. Under the Littleton ruling, trans people in a same-sex relationship could marry because the state viewed the trans person as the birth sex and therefore the opposite sex.
Katy Stewart, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said the decision seemed to make things more complicated for trans marriage in Texas.
“It would mean that more heterosexual transgender people can marry,” she said. “We’re still dealing with the whole same-sex thing. That leaves part of the community out there. … It’s going to put more pressure on people to have surgery to be with the person they love.”
But Stewart said the ruling is still a win even with the possible ramifications for some trans people married in Texas or planning on marrying in the future.
“It’s a bittersweet victory,” Stewart said. “It’s a step, it’s a victory. But with that comes my concerns and the realization of the work we have to do to make sure everyone else is equal.”
Stewart added that Araguz Loyd has been a leader in the trans community for pursuing her case, and she was glad to see it resolved in her favor.
“She has really come through this and has really been a shining example for our community of perseverance and of social justice,” Stewart said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 14, 2014.