Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, on why she’s going to the Log Cabin Republicans Convention

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

The Log Cabin Republicans will hold their National Convention in Dallas this coming weekend, and we’ll have a full story in Friday’s print edition. But because the convention actually begins Thursday, we figured we’d go ahead and post the full program sent out by the group earlier this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the program is a scheduled appearance by gay Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is of course a Democrat.

Valdez, who’ll be one of the featured speakers at a Saturday luncheon, contacted us this week to explain her decision to accept the invitation from Log Cabin (not that we necessarily felt it warranted an explanation). Here’s what she said: 

“We have more things in common than we have differences, but it seems like in politics we constantly dwell on our differences,” Valdez said. “If we continue to dwell on our differences, all we’re going to do is fight. If we try to work on our common issues, we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”

On that note, below is the full program. For more information or to register, go here.

—  John Wright

CORRECTION: All major candidates for Dallas mayor vied for LGBT vote in 2002

In my cover story for this week’s paper, I made a minor mistake. Actually it was fairly major. The opening paragraph of the story, as originally written, stated that 2011 marks the first time in history that all major candidates for Dallas mayor have actively courted the LGBT vote.

As former DV staff writer David Webb pointed out in the comments to the story, that’s not true. In 2002, Laura Miller, Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia — the three major candidates for mayor — all courted the LGBT vote.

From The Dallas Mornings News on Jan. 15, 2002:

Dallas gays and lesbians, who used to hope that they could just find a candidate who wouldn’t be hostile to their interests, find themselves for the first time being wooed from all directions in what boils down to a three-way citywide race – and disagreeing about whom to support.

“It’s the first time I haven’t had to go vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Deb Elder, a Laura Miller supporter and political organizer. “Nothing has piqued my passion like this mayoral vote.”

Put another way, with major candidates Ms. Miller, Tom Dunning, and Domingo Garcia all touting their support for including gays in a nondiscrimination ordinance, a sector of voters that was shunned not long ago can’t lose this time around.

“It’s historic. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be this soon,” said Michael Milliken, one of the city’s first publicly identified gay appointees. “The gay community is in a unique position this year.”

I had based my report on statements by openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who called the 2011 mayoral election “a watershed moment for the community” and “unprecedented.”

While that may be true in some other respects, this isn’t the first time all major mayoral candidates have sought the LGBT vote, and I apologize for the error.

—  John Wright

Blade’s Chris Johnson asks Gibbs if Obama has actually backtracked on marriage

In 1996, State Senate candidate Barack Obama indicated his support for same-sex marriage, stating “I support legalizing same-sex marriagem and would fight efforts to prohibit those marriages.” See for yourself: The Windy City Times has the actual documents.

As we know, in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said he opposed same-sex marriage, but supported civil unions. At a forum with Rick Warren in August of 2008, Obama actually said “God is in the mix.”

Of late, to both Kerry Eleveld and me, President Obama indicated that, now, he’s evolving on marriage. But, did he devolve before he’s evolving?

Today, the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson asked Robert Gibbs about Obama’s 1996 position on marriage. Needless to say, Gibbs deflected the question. Here’s the video:

The reelection campaign won’t be able to deflect this issue. The President has to get back to his 1996 position, sooner rather than later.




AMERICAblog Gay

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Video: Actually, I just showered (though I need another after watching this)

Notice that this person relies on Peter LaBarbera’s Americans For Truth site for many of his graphics:



*Source: The Truth About Sodomites [GodGunsGutsGlory]

Some fans you got there, Pete.

***

**Oh, and here’s one supportive comment left on the video’s home page:

Screen Shot 2010-12-29 At 9.53.52 Am




Good As You

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What exactly does ‘fair and open amendment process’ actually mean to Senators Collins and Lugar?

We keep hearing that some GOP Senators will support bringing the Defense Authorization bill to the floor. Via Kerry Eleveld’s report on the Senate Press conference yesterday:

I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it,” Lieberman told reporters at a press conference, naming GOP senators Susan Collins and Richard Lugar as yes votes. “Time is an inexcusable reason not to get this done.”

Here’s my question: What exactly does “fair and open amendment process” mean to Senators Collins and Lugar? Are they going to tell us in advance — or will they keep moving the goal line (think Grassley and Snowe during the health care debate.) And, what happens when Mitch McConnell brings down the hammer on them? Let’s be clear: The Senate Republican leaders have already made their decision — they will filibuster the Defense bill over DADT. Will Collins, Lugar and the other allegedly pro-repeal GOPers cave, like they usually do, but offer some lame-ass procedural excuse?

One has to wonder if Lugar, Collins and other GOP Senators want to face the wrath of John McCain. He’s known for his extremely volatile temper and he’s become obsessed with blocking the DADT language from passing. Look at how quickly he got his wife to flip-flop on DADT after she told the world it’s one of the reasons gay kids are killing themselves.

We need a transparent process here. Obviously, this blog has been unabashed about holding Democrats accountable — and we will continue to do that. But, we need to know the specifics of what Collins and Lugar want the process to look like. Then, we can gauge if they’re playing fair, too.

And, I included this paragraph from the NY Times in the post below, but it bears repeating:

Leaders of the new House Republican majority have indicated that repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not a priority for them, making it unlikely they would approve the bill again. That means if the repeal language is not approved by the end of this year, it will be effectively dead.

That’s right. And, it will be dead for a long time. This is our best shot. Those are the stakes. That is what Obama, Reid, Collins, Lieberman, Lugar and the rest need to remember.




AMERICAblog Gay

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Little known fact: ‘Vander Plaats’ is actually Iowan for ‘courts that cater to my whims’

This has to be the most egregious, self-satisfied, overplayed hands in recent “culture war” memory:

The leader of a successful campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices says the four justices who remain on the court should consider stepping down. Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City, the leader of Iowa for Freedom, says he is not asking for immediate resignations.

“But I do believe those four justices do need to think about the message that was sent on November two, and I believe that they fully realize that if they would have been on that ballot along with their three other peers, that they would have been voted off too,” Vander Plaats says, “so as the appointment process takes place I believe they need to take a look at a timeline and see if that’s something that they would choose to do, is to step down to make sure that they honor the court, and they don’t disrupt the court proceedings by not having a quorum.”

KEEP READING: Vander Plaats says four Supreme Court justices should consider stepping down [Radio Iowa]

So now not only is Bob Vander Plaats (pic., l.) fully admitting that his “Iowa For Freedom” campaign was solely about ONE. RULING., but he’s suggesting that the one, faith-motivated, out-of-state-funded, one-sided Screen Shot 2010-11-12 At 3.28.32 Pmcampaign to oust the three judges on the basis of this one opinion should be extended to the other four members of the unanimous Varnum panel as well. There’s no longer even the slightest pretense of judging these judges on the basis of their individual merits as jurists. For Vander Plaats, this majority percentage his crew was able to obtain at the polls equates to justification for the cause, that “justification” translates into capital, and that capital allows the anti-LGBT social conservatives go beyond turning this past retention vote into a weapon and instead extend their combative powers to the independent judiciary in general.

The truth, of course, is that the anti-gay side’s ability to achieve a 50% +1 margin in Iowa did not add any merit to their war. These votes never do. And in Iowa even less so, since there was surely a sizable percentage of non-retention that had nothing to do with the Varnum opinion, and would’ve still occurred without Vander Plaats’ wholly Varnum-focused IFF campaign. So instead of feeling like he now has two years to breathe down the necks of the other four justices until they cry “uncle,” the reality is that its Bob Vander Plaats who deserves to be burdened by tough judicial questions before the next retention vote. His efforts have raised downright chilling questions about minority rights, church/state separation, fair-minded courts, and the dangers of politicizing a process that was designed to strip politics out of justice, while his justifications have all been steeped in the land of convenient talking point. May the glow from a greater national spot enlighten those who were previously in the dark.




Good As You

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‘Yes there are, actually’

Edcouch, TX:

EDCOUCH – A message of hate on an Edcouch-Elsa High School marquee was a reminder to parents and school officials that they have work to do.

Two words, “no gays,” posted in front of Edcouch-Elsa High School was an ugly reminder of what some endure everyday.

Anti-gay Message Found on Edcouch-Elsa High School Marquee [KRGV]

A peculiar waste of time, if you ask us. You’d think biased bullies would at least post a slur or a threat or something that makes them feel tough. But just a simple, factually inaccurate assessment of the homosexual contents within their learning institution? Yawn.

Authorities don’t seem to have any leads. Though should they find “..but lesbians are cool” written on another part of school, they will know to look to men who’d like life to be more like a beer commerical.




Good As You

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‘He could have actually chartered a very different course than his predecessor and he hasn’t’

Strong words from Eliot Spitzer:

KEVIN SESSUMS: On another legal matter, do you agree with Obama that he had no choice as president defending the law of Congress to appeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ruling that said it was unconstitutional? Or do you agree with Ted Olson that he did not have to.

ELIOT SPITZER: He didn’t have to. He should have gotten rid of it with an executive order. He is the president! He is the commander in chief!

SESSUMS: Is he a coward about this issue?

SPITZER: I don’t want to call the president of the United States a coward.

SESSUMS: I will. On this issue, he’s a coward. He is playing politics with people’s lives. It’s cowardly.

SPITZER: Let me put it this way. From the very beginning, I have been very disappointed in his positions on a lot of civil-rights issues, on a lot of state-secrecy issues, a lot of judicial moments when he could have actually chartered a very different course than his predecessor and he hasn’t. And certainly Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is one of them.

SESSUMS: And on gay marriage, he is to the right of Dick Cheney and Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson. It would be almost poetic if it weren’t so sad and disheartening that on the civil-rights issue of our time, our first African-American president will be seen on the wrong side of history. Again, for political reasons he’s playing with people’s lives.

SPITZER: It dismays me, too. It’s dismaying. I am proud to say that I was the first governor in America to propose that same-sex marriage be legal and it still appalls me where we are on this issue in this country. Appalls me.

*FULL INTERVIEW: Eliot Comes Clean [Daily Beast]

(H/t:
Towle)

Beyond being dismaying (which it is): It’s also just plain bizarre. One thing that concerned some people about Candidate Obama was his tendency to come across as arrogant (“you’re likable enough, Hillary”) when he really wanted to be straightforward. To come across as too passionate to ever survive in the pragmatic world of politics. To seem like his admirable principles could actually endanger the progress if not finely tuned to the pulse of America. And we still see this willingness to go there from time to time, like when he talked about the Bush era Republicans having driven the car in the ditch. That sort of thing can be risky — but it comes from feeling so real it can’t be muted or faked.

But on LGBT issues, it’s been all compromise all the time! The principled push forward, a subjective path that those who value equality for all citizens have chosen to take without hesitancy Obama-backor qualifiers, is typically presented by this administration as a two-footed, equally-merited, completely objective march. There’s been little danger in the bold leadership seeming too tough, except with the far-right social conservatives who think watching “Modern Family” without fast forwarding through the Cam/Mitchell scenes is too pro-gay. The promises have been there. The speeches and proclamations have been inclusive, which does make a statement and should not be denied. But the White House has expended shockingly minimal capital on true change for LGBT rights, during a time when they should’ve realized that the window was always destined to close. In turn, the people who’ve become much more disenchanted, alienated, and/or confused are the ones who put so much hope in a president who they expected to take real world risks to accomplish what’s long overdue and undeniably right.

The mere fact that we LGBT people still have to discuss our basic humanity here in 2010 is appalling: That’s a truism that expands well beyond the presidency or even politics. However, there is no person in the world — NOT. ONE. PERSON. — who is in a more powerful chair in terms of changing civil rights history. It’s past time President Obama risk seeming arrogant on these core values issues, lest he risk seeming worthy of primary challenge in 2012.

And that’s not a threat from a detractor, either. It’s a real concern from a frequent defender who still wants to believe.




Good As You

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Valerie ‘Lifestyle Choice’ Jarrett falsely claims DOJ required to defend all laws; says critics don’t ‘actually understand’ process

Senior  Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett also appears to take a swipe at those of you aren’t happy with the President’s less-than-fierce advocacy on this issue. Apparently, you just don’t understand the way things work.  (Oh trust me, I think we’re beginning to.)  From Igor Volsky in The Wonk Room.

JARRETT: Until Congress repeals it, the Justice Department is doing what it is required to do, and that is to defend the laws of the land. But I want to be very clear, the President thinks that it is time for the policy to end and that is what he intends to ask Congress to do.

You know what, c. Believe me, we wish that it were another way because the President has been so clear. And I think there are many members of the gay community who actually understand this, and who are working with us to try to put pressure on Congress to repeal it. It’s clear that vast majority of American people think that it should not be the law. And we are determined to have Congress revoke it. But we have to go through that orderly process.

I think it’s time someone got Valerie Jarrett a new set of misinformation talking points, because the current ones have already been debunked, embarrassingly so.

No, Valerie, DOJ is not required to defend, or appeal, or enforce every law.  That’s a lie.  Newsweek did the best summation of the options the President has here, but to quote from their story, “Most experts in constitutional and military law say [President Obama] has other options” than simply appealing, defending and enforcing the law.

Don’t believe me?  How about Ted Olsen, George W. Bush’s solicitor general:

As Ted Olson — former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush — explains, “it happens every once in awhile at the federal level when the solicitor general, on behalf of the U.S., will confess error or decline to defend a law.”

“I don’t know what is going through the [Obama] administration’s thought process on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Olson said. “It would be appropriate for them to say ‘the law has been deemed unconstitutional, we are not going to seek further review of that.’”

Guess you’re wrong, Valerie.

Not to mention, if Valerie Jarrett is so sure that “the Justice Department is required to defend the law of the land,” then why has the Obama administration refused to enforce lots of other laws since they came into office?  We’ve enumerated them before.  Let me share with you a bit of that post:

A) Last October the Obama administration outright ignored federal law regarding marijuana because it was at odd’s with the administration’s policy preferences with regards to medical marijuana.

B) Then there is President Obama’s use of signing statements to simply ignore laws passed by Congress.

C) Then there’s this from the NYT just two months ago:

T]he approach will make it harder to keep track of which statutes the White House believes it can disregard….

[T]he administration will consider itself free to disregard new laws it considers unconstitutional….

Mr. Obama nevertheless challenged dozens of provisions early last year. The last time was in June, when his claim that he could disobey a new law requiring officials to push the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to adopt certain policies angered Congress….

Last year the Obama administration disregarded a statute that forbid State Department officials to attend United Nations meetings led by nations deemed state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has included that restriction in several recent bills.

D) Then there was the time that the Obama administration refused to enforce immigration laws because they didn’t comport with the administration’s policy preferences.

Need I go on?

I’d like to think that a senior White House official, who just spoke at the HRC dinner, isn’t lying to our community about the state of play with regards to DOJ and the law.  I’d like to think that she’s simply seriously ignorant of how all of this works.  But this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to mislead the gay community on this issue.  They do it a lot.  And it’s always the same false talking points about how they have no other option than to defend the law.

And it’s a lie.

Finally, with all due respect to Valerie Jarrett, why is the White House using someone who thinks being gay is a “lifestyle choice” to be their top spokesperson on gay issues?  Regardless of whether it was a simple slip of the tongue for Jarrett’s to use the phrase to recently describe a now-dead gay bullying victim, her use of the anachronistic and supremely offensive language shows that she is not intimately familiar with our community and our issues.  No gay spokesperson would use that phrase, ever.  But it seems there aren’t any senior White House advisers who are openly gay (or Cabinet secretaries, or Supreme Court nominees), and the only gay spokespeople they have are unfortunately relatively low level.  So we have to rely – the President has to rely when getting advice on our issues – on someone who thinks the state of play in the gay community is offensive religious right talking points from twenty years ago.

The Obama administration has done this much damage to the gay community’s decades-long relationship with the Democrat party in only 19 months.  Imagine how bad it’s going to be at the end of four years.




AMERICAblog Gay

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