CORPUS CHRISTI — The 13th District Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi issued a landmark opinion Thursday in favor of Houston trans widow Nikki Araguz, ruling that Texas must recognize the marriages of trans people.
The opinion, written by Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez, reverses the 2011 ruling by Houston state district Judge Randy Clapp, who ruled that Araguz was born male and Texas’ 2005 marriage amendment doesn’t recognize her marriage to a man. Her 2008 marriage to her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, became invalid. Thomas Araguz was a volunteer firefighter in Wharton and was killed in the line of duty in 2010 and Nikki Araguz was denied his death benefits.
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.
But the Texas Legislature opened the door for transgender marriage in 2009 when it added documentation of a sex change to the identification documents people can present to obtain a marriage license. Araguz’s appeal in September hinged on how the 2009 statute voids the Littleton ruling.
Houston attorney Kent Rutter, the lead attorney for the appeal, said the opinion marks the first time in Texas a court has recognized that trans people have the right to marry.
“What the decision today says is Texas law now recognizes that an individual who has had a sex change is eligible to marry a person of the opposite sex,” he said. “I think it’s a significant victory for trans people in Texas.”
Kent said that the ruling will result in further court proceedings to ensure Araguz receives her late husband’s death benefits.