Intersex widow Nikki Araguz sues city of Wharton for firefighter husband’s death benefits

This week, Nikki Araguz—the intersex widow of Thomas Araguz III, a Wharton, Texas, firefighter killed during a July 2010 fire at a Boling Maxim egg farm—filed a lawsuit against the city of Wharton so that she may receive his worker’s compensation death benefits.

Although the city of Wharton issued Araguz a legal marriage certificate when she married Thomas Araguz III in August 2008, a November 2011 hearing upheld a May 2011 decision by Judge Randy Clapp of the 329th Judicial District Court which declared Nikki’s marriage invalid because Nikki’s “male” designation on her birth certificate made her marriage to Thomas a same-sex marriage and thus, one not recognized by the state.

Clapp partially based his decision on Littleton v. Prange, a 1999 San Antonio appellate case which ruled that gender is determined at birth and unchangable. However, the 1999 ruling contradicts Section 2.005 of the Texas State Family Code which states that a person may marry anyone as long as they have opposite genders listed on any one of several government-issued documents.

Although listed as a male named Justin Graham Purdue on her birth certificate, Araguz was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)—a condition in which a newborn “has some or all of the physical characteristics of a woman, despite having the genetic makeup of a man.” Before marrying Thomas, she legally changed her name and gender to female.

Araguz’s lawyers pledged to challenge Clapp’s decision in the Corpus Christi 13th Court of Appeals and even the Supreme Court if necessary, but Araguz’s most recent filing against Wharton is its own standalone case specifically seeking the worker’s compensation death benefits that Wharton usually issues to spouses of deceased employees.

“This isn’t about gay marriage. This is about a man being married to a woman,” Araguz’s attorney Peggy Campbell told Instant Tea. “[The Texas State Family Code] is at conflict with the 1999 ruling and the world has changed so much since 1999. It’s time for the legislature to change the laws so that all transgender people get treated as they should be.”

—  Daniel Villarreal