CREDIT: Nikki Araguz.
Texas state law only allows for the recognition of a marriage between a man and a woman, but the 13th District Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that transgender gender identities should be recognized for this purpose. In other words, trans people should not be denied the right to marry a person of the opposite gender because of the sex they were classified as at birth.
The case involved Nikki Araguz, a trans/intersex woman whose husband died fighting a fire, following which his ex-wife and mother sued alleging that Araguz deserved no death benefits. They claimed that because Araguz had been classified as male at birth, her marriage was a same-sex marriage and thus invalid — an argument the lower court agreed with, despite the fact that a 2009 law allowed individuals like Araguz to use their sex change certification as a document to obtain a marriage certificate. In their decision, the appeals court recognized that her identity was not so easily reduced:
For our purposes, the key words in the statute are “identity” and “sex change.” “Identity” refers to the applicant as an individual, and the term “sex change” refers to the applicant changing his or her sex. See id. Reading the statutory provision as a whole, it states that an applicant who has had a “sex change” may use a court order related to that sex change as proof of identity and thus eligibility to obtain a marriage license. Reading the statute to conform with the definition of a marriage in the Texas Constitution and the statutory ban on same sex marriages, which are crystal clear in their meaning and effect, we hold that under Texas law a valid marriage could exist between Nikki and Thomas only if Nikki was a woman during their marriage such that there was a marriage between one man and one woman, as set forth in the Texas Constitution. Otherwise, it was a same sex marriage banned by Texas law.
In sum, we hold that Texas law recognizes that an individual who has had a “sex change” is eligible to marry a person of the opposite sex.
Though Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage remains unaffected, this is an important victory for trans people. The inconsistency within Texas and across states on this matter creates complications about whether someone who has transitioned to a gender they were not assigned at birth can marry someone of the same or opposite gender. That confusion may persist and cause problems for trans people who also identify as gay or bi, but there is now, at least, precedent in Texas to recognize their authentic identities.