By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com February 14 2014 3:50 PM ET
On Thursday, Texas's 13th District Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of Nikki Araguz, a transgender woman and widow of Thomas Araguz. She has been caught in a legal battle over her late husband's estate with Simona Longoria and Heather Delgado, his mother and ex-wife, respectively.
After Thomas Araguz died in 2010 while fighting a fire, Nikki Araguz was given control of his estate, estimated at $600,000. Shortly after his death, Longoria and Delgado filed suit against Nikki Araguz, claiming that she wasn't legally married to Thomas, since Texas state law prohibits same-sex marriage. Longoria and Delgado later suggested that she had hidden her trans history from her husband.
Nikki Araguz has a California birth certificate, a Texas driver's license, and Social Security Administration card, all of which list her gender as female. All of these documents identified her as female at the time of her marriage to Thomas Araguz. Regardless, in May 2011, state district Judge Randy Clapp ruled that as a result of Nikki Araguz's transgender status and because she had yet to undergo sexual reassignment surgery at the time of the marriage, the union should be nullified, and he awarded control of the estate to Thomas Araguz's parents.
Since then, Nikki Araguz has been fighting to overturn Clapp's ruling. On Thursday, Texas's 13th District Court of Appeals ruled that Araguz should be given the chance to again argue her case before the original court, voiding the lower court's ruling.
"We hold that under Texas law a valid marriage could exist between Nikki and Thomas only if Nikki was a woman during their marriage such that there was a marriage between one man and one woman, as set forth in the Texas Constitution," Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez writes in the ruling. He continues, "We conclude that the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding Nikki's sex and whether the marriage was a same sex marriage. ... In sum, 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 ruling is an important victory for transgender people, as upholding the lower court's ruling would have set a precedent that one's legal identifying documents do not hold weight in a court of law. This decision sets forth a new precedent recognizing that trans people do have a right to be recognized by their authentic gender when they enter into a legal marriage.