An Arizona judge has refused Thomas Beatie, known the world over as the ‘Pregnant Man,’ the right to divorce his wife because the judge quibbles over Beatie’s gender and says that because Arizona prohibits gay marriage, he has no authority to grant a divorce.
Maricopa County Judge Douglas Gerlach ruled last week that Beatie, who made international headlines after carrying three children to term after his female-to-male gender transition, said that because Beatie had not had genital surgery, he failed to qualify as having fully gone through the sex change process under Arizona law.
“…by urging that Arizona law equates a double mastectomy with a sex change operation, the parties’ contention, if adopted, would lead to circumstances in which a person’s sex can become a matter of whim and not a matter of any reasonable, objective standard or policy, which is precisely the kind of absurd result the law abhors,” Gerlach wrote.
This is despite the fact that Beatie has had a number of gender reassignment-related procedures, including masculinizing hormone therapy and a double mastectomy. Furthermore, when entering into a marriage with his estranged partner Nancy in Hawaii in 2003, Hawaii did recognize Beatie as a man. Beatie also has all the relevant documentation to mark his gender, including a gender amended birth certificate and a passport.
However, Gerlach decided Beatie does not fulfill Arizona’s definition of a gender reassigned man and this makes Beatie’s marriage to Nancy a same-sex marriage. Due to the fact that Arizona does not recognize same-sex marriage, Gerlach concluded there is no provision for granting a divorce in this case.
“The decision here is not based on the conclusion that this case involves a same-sex marriage merely because one of the parties is a transsexual male, but instead, the decision is compelled by the fact that the parties failed to prove that petitioner was a transsexual male when they were issued their marriage license,” Gerlach wrote.
The legal issues in this case are quite complex, but they converge on at what point the state is willing to recognize a gender transition. When Beatie married Nancy in 2003, he was recognized under Hawaii law as a man because Hawaii did not place an emphasis on his reproductive organs. Arizona, like many states, does.
“To grant [the couple's] request for a divorce in these circumstances would require the court to usurp its authority and result in a dissolution decree that has no legal effect,” Judge Gerlach said in closing, adding that a double mastectomy could not constitute a sex-change operation.
Beatie’s lawyers have said Beatie was shocked by the judge’s claims and, indeed, this opinion is worrying because it applies a standard for gender reassignment that hinges solely on reproductive organs. Not every trans person wants or needs genital change surgery in order to complete their medically recognized transition and so to hold this as a defining standard creates a high and troubling benchmark for Arizona’s trans citizens.
Arizona isn’t the only state to deal with this marriage and, indeed, divorce equality issue, with lengthy court battles having sprung up in several states, including one notable case in Texas where a wife tried to have her marriage to her trans male partner annulled rather than allow a divorce to proceed on the grounds Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages as lawful.
This case and ones like it serve to demonstrate the prejudicial legal landscape that allows the human rights of trans people to be ignored. It also shows that an ignorance surrounding issues of gender identity still persist, and with incredibly damaging consequences.
Arizona is of course currently mulling a bill that could make trans people using a public restroom a criminal offense.
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