Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Widow of Wharton

Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz is the 35 year old widow of fallen Wharton, Texas firefighter, Captain Thomas Araguz III (see pic above). On July 3, Capt. Araguz died in the line of duty. Capt. Araguz was buried on July 11 and the next day, his mother Simona Longoria filed documents in court aimed at dissolving Nikki & Thomas's marriage claiming that Nikki was born male and therefore could not be Capt. Araguz' lawful spouse under Texas law.

Capt. Araguz' ex-wife, Heather Delgado, with whom he has two children, filed a similar suit two days later. Capt. Araguz's death benefits amount to more than $600,000 and by law should be shared by his wife, Nikki and his two children. Both Longoria and Delgado claim that their move to question Nikki's gender in court and have her marriage to Capt. Araguz' dissolved is for the benefit of the children.

In an early news report about the case, Nikki's parents are quoted as saying that Nikki has complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) an intersex condition of girls and women with normal female bodies but with no ovaries or uterus. Nikki's initial gender assignment at birth, as recorded in her birth certificate, was male and her original birth name was Justin Graham Purdue, which she had changed in the mid-90s.

Lawyers of Longoria & Delgado, in different news stories, refer incessantly to an infamous 1999 case involving a transwoman, Littleton v. Prange. Christie Littleton was a transsexual woman who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her dead husband's doctor, Mark Prange. Prange's attorney argued that Christie's marriage to Johnathan Mark Littleton was invalid because she was originally assigned male at birth. Chief Justice Phil Hardberger ruled that Christie's gender was not the gender she said she was but her birth assigned sex, thereby declaring her male and invalidating her marriage to her husband. As such, she could not file a wrongful death case which can only be lodged by a legal spouse. Because there was no precedent case in the US, Littleton v. Prange followed the wisdom of an English decision that came out in 1970, Corbett v. Corbett which held that a marriage involving a transsexual spouse was invalid.

Transgender Americans are closely watching how Mrs. Araguz' case will turn out as it has the potential to challenge Littleton v. Prange. Ever since Littleton, marriages involving a trans spouse have been upheld in Californa & New Jersey. There is also case law outside US borders. In 2000, a UK high court in W v. W, held that a marriage involving an intersex spouse was valid. In Australia, the 2001 decision Re Kevin recognized the marriage of a transman who had not undergone any form of genital surgery.

I am going to keep my fingers crossed for Mrs. Araguz & hope that things turn out well for her. According to her, she has lost not only her husband but her best friend as well. I hope that she will be given time to grieve her husband properly. I pray too that the Texas judicial system, in the end, will recognize her gender identity. In the mean time, I hope that those who will come to know this case will realize that a person's gender is a matter that only that person can resolve. For doctors, lawyers, commentators and judges to usurp that right is a crime against that very person's humanity.

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