At a time when the federal courts in Texas are pondering the question of whether same sex marriages should be legalized, a Texas Appellate Court ruled today that marriages involving one transgendered partner are legal in the state, 1200 WOAI news reprots.
"This is the first court ruling in favor of transgendered marriage rights in Texas," Houston Attorney Kent Rutter, who represented Nikki Araguz, a transgendered woman. told 1200 WOAI news following Thursday's ruling by the appeals court in Corpus Christi.
Araguz, 38, was born in California as a male named Justin Graham Purdue. But the court ruling says 'since early childhood, Purdue was largely taken by others as a girl. By the age of four she expressed feelings of being female.'
Rutter says she was diagnosed at the age of 18 with a condition called 'gender dysphoria, in which an individual 'has longstanding and persistent feelings of being a member of the opposite sex.
At the age of 21, the court ruling says Purdue filed a petition to have her name changed to Nikki Paige Purdue. The state of California then issued an 'amended birth certificate reflecting the name change.
In 2008, despite Texas law banning same sex marriages, Purdue presented her drivers license to officials in Wharton County, southwest of Houston, which listed her sex as 'female,' and obtained a marriage license to marry Thomas Trevino Araguz, a Wharton volunteer firefighter. At the time of the wedding, Rutter says Nikki had 'male sex organs, but was living as a woman. She latesr underwent a sex change operation, and court papers show her husband testified that he 'never knew' that his wife was 'formerly male.'
In July of 2010, Thomas Araguz died fighting a fire in Wharton County. But Rutter says when she appeared in probate court, a judge ruled that her marriage was illegal because, since she was born male, it was a same sex marriage, which is not allowed under Texas law.
"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," the appeals court ruled in a 26 page decision released today.
"She has always felt that she is female ever since she was a little girl," Rutter said about Araguz, who was not available for comment. "She and Thomas had a strong loving marriage."
Rutter points out that the court's decision was based on the fact that the Texas Legislature, in 2009, added documentation of a sex change to the list of valid documents that can be presented to obtain a marriage license, although lawmakers did not specifically state that the action was legalizing transgendered marriage.
Rutter says the case will now be sent back to the local probate court, which will make a final decision about the distribution of Araguz' assets.