Gay partner can inherit — in New York, anyway

Susan Sommer

Lambda Legal has won another lawsuit related to same-sex marriage, this time in New York. The court ruled that the survivor of a same-sex marriage can inherit as a spouse.

J. Craig Leiby and H. Kenneth Ranftle were together 25 years and married in Canada in 2008. Ranftle died of lung cancer later that year and left his estate to Leiby.

After his death, one of Ranftle’s brothers challenged the will claiming same-sex marriage is not legal in New York. That state does, however, recognize marriages performed elsewhere and that recognition has been upheld in court at least twice.

“The Leiby case marks the first time a New York appeals court has afforded recognition to same-sex spouses for inheritance purposes,” said Lambda Legal senior counsel Susan Sommer.

Sommer said that the ruling protects out-of-state marriages. Families are prevented from pretending there was no relationship and disregarding the wishes of the deceased.

—  David Taffet

Anti-gay group files lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — A social conservative group has filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry.

Members of Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Aug. 18 in Dane County circuit court arguing that the year-old registry violates the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage approved by voters in 2006.

The group tried to bring their lawsuit directly to the state Supreme Court in November but were rebuffed.

In June the state Supreme Court did uphold the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions but the ruling did not affect the registry.

Under the registry, same-sex couples who sign up receive a limited number of the same legal rights as spouses, including hospital visitation, inheritance, and medical leave rights.

—  John Wright

Texas Transgender Summit attendees on Nikki Araguz case: Littleton v. Prange is bunk

Dozens of individuals and organizations meeting at the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit in Houston issued a joint statement Thursday on the Nikki Araguz case. In case you missed it, Araguz is the transgender widow of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who died in the line of duty earlier this month. Thomas Araguz’s is family is suing Nikki Araguz in an effort to prevent her from receiving death benefits, alleging that the marriage was invalid. Below is the full text of the statement. For a list of signatories, go here.

HOUSTON, Texas (July 22, 2010) — We, the attendees of the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, issue this statement to demonstrate our support for Mrs. Nikki Araguz and to call attention to her plight and that of all transgender people in the state of Texas.

Mrs. Nikki Araguz legally married a man, and her marriage has been recognized under the laws of the state of Texas. Nikki’s husband, a fireman in Wharton County, tragically was killed in the line of duty, and now other parties are attempting to use the courts to have her marriage legally overturned in an effort to deny her inheritance and insurance.

These parties are claiming that Nikki is not legally a woman under Texas law. Nikki’s opponents are attempting to use an obscure Texas case, Littleton v. Prange (1999), to declare that her marriage should be invalid. The Littleton case says that a person’s gender is determined by chromosomes, not physical attributes. The Littleton case was decided to deny a transgender woman her right to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of her husband — even though Littleton had legally changed her gender and had been legally married in Texas.

The Littleton case was wrongfully decided at the time, and if taken literally stands for the proposition that a transgender person cannot marry anyone, of either gender, under Texas law. Clearly, this is wrong. Denying anyone the right to marry whom they love is a violation of the most basic freedoms under our laws. To deny the validity of an existing, legal marriage, after one of the spouses has died, as justification for the redistribution of inheritance and insurance, is abhorrent to the values of common decency, fair play, and justice that most Texans hold dear.

We, the attendees of this Summit, extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Araguz, and call for the swift dismissal of this lawsuit so that Mrs. Araguz may be left to mourn her loss in private without distraction or worry for her financial stability.

If necessary, we also call for the courts to consider the Littleton case superseded by the recent changes to the Texas Family Code that recognize a court ordered gender change as definitive proof of identity.

Sadly, discrimination against people because of either their gender identity or expression is common. There are few laws in the state of Texas to address this need. The purpose of our Summit is to find ways to help people confront and overcome the issues now facing all transgender people in Texas and, tragically, Mrs. Nikki Araguz.

—  John Wright