Outside the Supreme Court this past spring, a Human Rights Campaign employee allegedly told a transgender activist that marriage equality “isn’t a transgender issue.” Someone should tell that to Nikki Araguz, a trans widow in Texas who is currently slogging her way through lengthy legal proceedings after a court voided her legal marriage to the now-deceased Thomas Araguz.
The laws surrounding marriage vary from state to state, making it difficult to know just exactly which sex our potential spouse needs to be a member of in order for it to constitute a legal marriage. The case of Nikki Araguz is particularly confusing. Born in California, Nikki legally changed her legal documents to reflect her identity at the age of 18. At 31, she underwent sexual reassignment surgery. Her original birth certificate was updated to reflect her correct gender. Again, this was her original birth certificate, not an amended one, as California treats changes to the gender marker as it would a clerical error.
Nikki’s husband passed away in 2010. Since then, Thomas’ ex-wife Heather Delgado has been making efforts to claim the death benefit to be paid out to Thomas’ family, as he died on duty as a firefighter. Delgado’s actions led to Nikki and Thomas’ marriage being voided as the lower court ruled that this was a same-sex marriage, contrary to the state’s own rules surrounding marriage, which state that birth certificates simply need to reflect that the two individuals getting married are of opposite sex.
In the time since Thomas’ passing, Nikki has gotten engaged to a man, running into hurdles in an attempt to get a marriage license. This leads me to wonder: who exactly can trans people in Texas marry? I doubt if Nikki, a woman with an original birth certificate reading “female,” walked into a clerk’s office wanting to marry another woman, that she’d be issued a marriage license.
In Illinois, where I live, the regulations surrounding marriage are similar, with the birth certificate being the deciding factor. This leads some transgender individuals to carefully examine which documents to update, which ones to leave in their original form, in order to be able to marry someone they love. In my case, my drivers license and file with the Social Security Administration reflect that I am female, though, to this point, I’ve left my birth certificate as “male,” as this would leave the door open on marriage for me (I am solely attracted to women).
Someone shouldn’t need to be some sort of legal scholar to determine if they can marry the person they love, but unfortunately, as Nikki Araguz knows, it seems to be expected. In some states, you can only have a straight marriage, in others, you’re only allowed a gay marriage. In some, one’s diligence in staying on top of paperwork changes can make the difference, and in others, like Texas, it seems nearly impossible to get married – same sex or opposite sex – without a team of lawyers at your back.
So, yes, Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality certainly is a transgender issue.