Nikki Araguz was thrust into the headlines in 2010 after the tragic death of her firefighter husband on the job; when she moved to claim the death benefits owed to her, they were denied because she was transgender. Three years later, she’s still litigating, but she’s also found love again after the death of the man she was starting to build a family and a relationship with. There’s a small hitch, however: when she went to apply for a marriage license, she was turned down, again because of her gender.
Despite the fact that Nikki’s identification correctly indicates that her gender is female, and that she has documentation including an amended birth certificate and a formal document noting the state of her transition, the State of Texas is treating her as a man. According to the Family Code in Texas, the identification she presented when she filed for her license should be sufficient, but the clerk insisted that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage superceded the Family Code, and that because her original birth certificate listed the incorrect gender, she couldn’t be legally married.
It’s an argument she’s heard before; the judge denying her death benefits claims her earlier marriage is “invalid” due to the fact that she’s transgender. And she’s not impressed. She intends to marry her fiance William Llloyd whether or not Texas thinks their marriage is valid, against the objections of conservatives in the state who want to define both gender and marriage along very rigid lines.
In a bizarre twist, were Araguz to be lesbian, she could marry a woman. Because the State of Texas insists on considering her a man, it would be more than happy to issue a marriage license to her as long as she’s marrying another woman; a rather odd turn of affairs for a state so staunchly against marriage equality. Such situations are common in states with restrictions on same-sex marriage and antiquated laws about gender identity that insist on using the gender assigned at birth as the ultimate and only gender for residents, regardless as to how they express their gender and whether they go through transition.
Such experiences are emotionally trying in addition to frustrating for the trans community; Nikki has already had a lifetime of discovering who she is, taking steps to bring her gender expression into alignment with her experience of her gender, and fighting bigotry. Now, yet another stumbling block has been placed in the way of living a quiet life; this widow simply wants to recover and open a new chapter of her life with a man she loves, but instead the experience of getting the marriage license will be forever marred by this experience.
Araguz’ experience in Texas speaks to the need for cohesive national policy on gender identity and nondiscrimination; bearing identification with the correct gender marker means Araguz should be treated as the woman she is, not as the man people told her parents she was at birth. And people of any gender should be able to file for marriage licenses without interference.
Photo credit: Andrew Morrell.