- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gay marriage aside, can someone born a man also be eligible for the rights of a wife and a widow?

That is what courts in Texas are trying to determine in the case of Nikki Araguz, a transgendered person who was born as Justin Purdue and is being barred from spending or collecting the death benefits of her husband, Capt. Thomas Araguz, a 30-year-old firefighter killed in the line of duty July 4.

The case, which transgender advocates hope will result in the overturning of a Texas law that says a person’s sex is defined at birth, immediately concerns about $600,000 in survivor benefits, with Nikki Araguz on one side and Simona Longoria, the mother of Capt. Araguz, on the other.

Mrs. Longoria is arguing, on behalf of her grandchildren, that Nikki Araguz was born a man and that since Texas defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the marriage is void and she has no rights to spousal and survivor benefits.

Depending on whether the union is recognized as legal, Nikki Araguz could be denied any benefits or could receive up to $300,000, said Chad Ellis, the attorney for Mrs. Longoria. The rest would go to the 6- and 9-year-old children whom Capt. Araguz had with his first wife, Heather Delgado.

The case has prompted charges and countercharges about deception and about whether Capt. Araguz knew that his wife was born a boy, and has the potential to break new legal ground in the definitions of “marriage” and “sex/gender.”

But Mr. Ellis is not interested in that.

“I’m not blazing new legal ground,” Mr. Ellis said. “This issue has already been decided. This is not a new concept. … They’re trying to push an agenda that’s bigger than the death benefits of Tommy Araguz and whether or not his children get this money.”

A hearing Aug. 16 will determine whether Mrs. Longoria will win her bid to be declared the executor of her son’s estate. The common-law rule is that, in the absence of a will, a married man’s widow oversees it. This dispute centers on whether Nikki Araguz is a widow.

The current precedent in Texas is a 1999 state court case, Littleton v. Prange, which says three factors determine a person’s gender at birth: gonads, genitalia and chromosomes. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines transgender as a person “who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.”

Nicole Haagenson, a spokeswoman for Nikki Araguz, said the union between the two was clearly a valid marriage.

“They had a marriage license,” she said. “They have pictures and documents.”

At the time of Capt. Araguz’s death, however, the couple had been separated for months, and Nikki Araguz was interested in obtaining a divorce.

The case heated up last week, when Nikki Araguz produced e-mails purporting to show that Capt. Araguz was aware of his wife’s former identity as a male.

“There is no question that my husband knew exactly what was going on,” Nikki Araguz told reporters in Texas on video. “He was fully loving and accepting and compassionate to the medical condition that I was dealing with when we first met. This is less about money than it is about the civil rights of my husband and I to legally be recognized as we recognized each other and all of our friends and neighbors did as a heterosexual, male and female, married couple.”

Story Continues →