Validity Question Looms for Some Trans People Who Marry

One divorce demonstrates the precarious legal state for many transgender people who marry.

BY Trudy Ring

May 31 2013 3:00 AM ET

Thomas Beatie (right), Nancy Beatie, and Susan Juliette Beatie.

A judge’s denial of a divorce for Thomas Beatie is a stark reminder for transgender people to make sure their marriages are recognized as legally valid. Beatie is a transgender man who the media once heralded as the first pregnant man, though he was merely the first trans man to widely publicize the pregnancy.

In late March a judge in Arizona ruled that Beatie and his wife, Nancy Roberts Beatie, could not be granted a divorce because they could not be considered legally married. Maricopa County Family Court judge Douglas Gerlach said there was insufficient evidence that Beatie was male when the couple married in Hawaii in 2003, although Hawaii considered them a legally married, opposite-sex couple; they moved to Arizona in 2010. Beatie is appealing the ruling, saying it fails to recognize his gender identity, that he wants his children to know their parents were legally married, and that he fears complications if he wants to marry again.

Before his marriage, Beatie had undergone top surgery, that is, a double mastectomy, and he had taken testosterone since 1997. He changed all his legal paperwork to reflect his transition from female to male, but he retained his female reproductive organs and bore three children during his marriage to Nancy; he had stopped taking testosterone around 2006 in order become pregnant, as Nancy had had a hysterectomy. Gerlach cited the cessation of the hormone treatment in his ruling and also said Beatie had not provided documentation of other nonsurgical efforts he had undertaken to effect his gender transition.

The ruling is a limited one “because the facts in the case are so specific,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Minter, who is not involved in the case but has expertise in such matters, says that while this ruling is particular to the Beaties and does not set a precedent, it does drive home the need for additional legal precautions for married couples in which at least one partner is transgender.

“The best thing people can do is get a court judgment that they have legally changed their gender before they marry,” he says. The documentation required for such a judgment varies from state to state, he says, but the procedure is relatively inexpensive and straightforward.

Whether or not people desire or can afford to go to court, he adds, they should know their state laws on gender identification and, before marrying, get as many identifying documents as possible changed to reflect their post-transition gender. He adds that people in this situation can always reach out to LGBT legal groups, such as NCLR, the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal, or Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.

Meanwhile, he wishes the Beaties well. “It’s unfortunate, unfair, and upsetting,” he says of the judge’s decision, adding, “I feel very badly for Thomas and his wife.”

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