A Florida judge on Friday granted primary child custody to a transgendered man engaged in a bitter divorce case and ruled that the man is legally a male and had been legally married under state law, even though he was born female. The ruling is the first of its kind in Florida. Circuit court judge Gerard O'Brien ruled that Michael Kantaras is the legal father of his wife's teenage son and of a child she conceived with donated sperm during their marriage.
Legal experts have said the ruling could provide a legal definition of gender in the state and also give nonbiological or stepparents a legal foundation to seek visitation or custody. "The court recognized that the two children in this case have a devoted, loving father and need to maintain a relationship with both their parents," said National Center for Lesbian Rights staff attorney Karen Doering, cocounsel in the case. "This court recognized that Michael's transgender status has nothing to do with his ability to be a good parent. Michael is a loving, responsible father who also happens to be transgendered."
Kantaras met and married his wife, Linda, in 1989. According to testimony, Linda was fully aware of Michael's transgender status prior to the marriage and permitted Michael to adopt her then-3-month-old son. The couple later had a daughter through alternative insemination. The children are now ages 14 and 11.
After the couple divorced in 1999, Kantaras's ex-wife filed suit arguing that Kantaras was legally female and their marriage invalid, in an attempt to strip Kantaras of his custody rights. The judge rejected that argument and upheld Kantaras's rights as the children's father. "I'm so relieved," said Kantaras. "Now my kids and I can get on with our lives in peace."
In his ruling O'Brien said, "The marriage law of Florida clearly provides that marriage shall take place between one man and one woman. It does not provide when such status of being a man or woman shall be determined." Florida law bans same-sex marriages and bars gay people from adopting children. O'Brien also said that under Florida law, "there is no statutory requirement that the [marriage license] applicants shall prove their gender by producing a birth certificate."