Texas appeals court overturns judge’s decision declaring transgender widow Nikki Araguz’s marriage void


Nikki Araguz, right, and her late husband Thomas Araguz.

In a victory for transgender rights, a Texas appeals court has overturned a district judge’s decision declaring trans widow Nikki Araguz’s marriage void.

Araguz’s husband, Wharton firefighter Thomas Araguz, died in the line of duty in 2010. Following his death, Thomas Araguz’s mother and ex-wife sued to block Nikki Araguz from receiving death benefits, arguing their 2008 marriage was void because she was born male and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

State district Judge Randy Clapp issued a summary judgment declaring the marriage void in 2011. But on Thursday, the 13th District Court of Appeals threw out the summary judgment and remanded the case to Clapp for further proceedings.

“We conclude that this was an error because, on the record before us, the question of Nikki’s sex is a disputed issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment,” Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez wrote.

The opinion goes on to say that the Legislature passed a law in 2009 making proof of sex change one of the documents people can use to obtain a marriage license in Texas. According to the court, this law’s passage had the effect of overturning another state appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, in which a transgender widow’s marriage was declared void based on her birth sex.

The 13th District also said Clapp failed to give adequate weight to an expert’s affidavit saying Araguz has “gender dysphoria” and explaining the condition.

Texas transgender advocate Meghan Stabler said although Araguz’s fight will continue, the ruling is a victory for “heterosexually orientated transsexuals in Texas.”

“The 13th Court of Appeals issued the correct opinion today regarding the legitimacy of Nikki’s Araguz’s sex [female] and marriage [heterosexual] to Thomas Araguz,” Stabler wrote. “However, the reversal of the lower trial court’s judgment means Nikki will have to continue her lengthy and expensive fight for full equality over the coming months and likely years to come. What was particularly good for transgender Texans is that the Appellate Court Judges opined that, ‘Texas law recognizes that an individual who has had a ‘sex change’ is eligible to marry a person of the opposite sex. And, historically concluding that the Littleton case was legislatively overruled.”

Read the full opinion here.