Fallen firefighter’s parents file lawsuit to prevent transgender widow from receiving death benefits

Thomas Araguz III and Nikki Araguz.

The parents of a Houston-area firefighter who died in the line of duty are trying to prevent his transgender widow from receiving death benefits, The Houston Chronicle reports. Chad Ellis, an attorney for the firefighter’s parents, claims he didn’t find out his wife was born a man until a few months before he was killed in a fire in July. But the man’s widow, Nikki Araguz, says he knew she was transgender before they married in 2008:

The lawsuit, slated for Friday in Wharton County District Court, leans on 1999 state case law prohibiting same-sex marriage and maintaining a person’s gender forever remains the same as it was at birth, Ellis said.

“We are not blazing new legal ground here,” Ellis said.

Nikki Araguz declined Sunday to discuss her gender history, and insisted that her husband knew everything about her personal life when they married in August 2008. She also said the couple was not separated.

“We had a completely honest marriage, a 100 percent loving, honest marriage,” she said. “I am grieving the loss of my husband and best friend.”

The 1999 case law referenced in the Chronicle story is Littleton v. Prange out of San Antonio. But our understanding is that this case isn’t binding for courts in other parts of the state.

Clearly if Mr. Araguz knew his wife was transgender, she should be entitled to death benefits. But what about if he didn’t? Does it really matter?

UPDATE: The Transgender Foundation of America has issued the following statement:

TFA Demands Justice for Wharton Widow
Houston, Texas – July 19, 2010 – The Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) is sad to learn of the untimely death of Thomas Araguz III, a heroic firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. Additionally, we are saddened to learn of a second tragedy unfolding in Wharton County involving the Araguz’s grieving widow and her in-laws.

Immediately after the death of Araguz, the in-laws came out of the woodwork in an effort to defame the marriage of a fallen hero. The in-laws have claimed that Mrs. Araguz is a post-operative male-to-famale transgender woman and as such, they claim the marriage is invalid and that they are entitled to the married couple’s home, belongings and financial assets.

“It is an affront to common decency that Mrs. Araguz’s in-laws have turned this tragedy into a money-grab”  said Cristan Williams, the Executive Director of TFA .  “I have spoken with Nikki and I find the actions of her in-laws repugnant. I call upon common sense and decency to prevail in this case.  Mrs. Araguz should be left alone to grieve the death of her heroic husband with the support of her friends and of her church.”

At the heart of this attempt to swipe the property and money of a grieving widow lies the assumption that the chromosomes of Nikki Araguz must be XY and that chromosomes equal sex, a long debunked test that virtually all medical experts and sports authorities have abandoned. In 1999, the Olympic Committee along with many other federations dropped chromosome testing as a viable sex test all together.

The flawed ideology Mrs. Araguz’s in-laws wish to use in their bid for the couple’s belongings is based on a 1999 San Antonio ruling that declares that the position of the court is that women like Mrs. Araguz may only marry other women, which would also deny the right of marriage to all inter-sexed citizens of the State of Texas.

“TFA hopes that the Texas judicial system will quickly dismiss this frivolous attempt to rob Mrs. Araguz of her rightful possessions” said Williams.  “I cannot imagine the tremendous pain that she must be going through, being attacked by her own family during her time of mourning.”

—  John Wright