Nikki Araguz's husband, Thomas Araguz III, was a firefighter in Wharton, Texas, near Houston, who tragically died in the line of duty. Now, Thomas' family has come forward with a lawsuit against Nikki charging her with fraud, asking for her marriage to Thomas to be declared invalid and for her to not receive any benefits related to her husband's death. Nikki's crime? Being a transsexual woman.
This case was brought to the attention of many in the Texas transgender community by groups like TENT and the Transgender Foundation of America (TFA). Nikki is being represented by noted Houston-area lawyer Phyllis Randolph Frye, a transgender woman herself. As reported by KHOU news, a judge in Wharton today has frozen access to benefits related to the death of Mr. Araguz for both his family and his widow until the case is decided.
Phyllis Frye expects the case to be a long fight. "This will be a landmark case. We face a long legal battle which will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court and will define future law on transgender recognition and same-sex marriage" (TFA-Help Us Win Justice for Wharton Widow). If you would like to contribute to Mrs. Araguz's legal fund, you can send contribution to (from TFA):
Transgender Foundation of America
Houston, TX 77006
Make checks payable to Transgender Foundation of America. Please make sure to note that the payment is for the TG Center Nikki Araguz Fund.
Credit card contributions can be made using the following link:
The case of Nikki Araguz focuses attention on the uncertain marriage rights facing transgender people. Mrs. Araguz's opponents are basing their claims on the current status of transgender people in Texas law. Texas law currently does not allow for the ammending of sex on birth certificates and on the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals case Littleton v. Prange, the ruling of which can be read here. In this ruling, the Texas court ruled that Christie Lee Littleton, a transsexual woman suing a doctor over the wrongful death of her husband, "is a male. As a male, Christie cannot be married to another male. Her marriage to Jonathon was invalid, and she cannot bring a cause of action as his surviving spouse." The court cited lack of legislative and legal precedent in deciding the marital status of a transsexual woman. Because transgender people lack protections of their gender/sex identity, they can still be denied their rights as legitimate spouses.
Transgender people need to be more vocal in their support of marriage reform. Transgender people are often left on the sidelines in issues of rights because transgender issues are seen as more contentious even than gay rights issues. A case like Mrs. Araguz's could force change of the legal and legislative status of transgender people. Mrs. Araguz's case also brings attention to the need for transgender couples and spouses, along with gay and lesbian couples, to create legal wills to protect the legal rights of their partners in the event of their death.
But until a transgender woman is recognized as a woman and a transgender man is recognized as a man, transgender people will continue to face these sorts of challenges to their rights.