Trans­gen­der widow’s mar­riage chal­lenged

dead fire­fighter’s mom says texas law bars in­her­i­tance

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Juan A. Lozano

HOUS­TON — The fam­ily of a South­east Texas fire­fighter killed in a July 4 blaze has sued to void his mar­riage to his trans­gen­der widow and pre­vent her from get­ting his death ben­e­fits be­cause she was born a man and Texas doesn’t rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riages.

The at­tor­ney for the mother of Thomas Araguz III said Thurs­day that the fire­fighter only re­cently learned of his wife’s gen­der his­tory and af­ter he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the mar­riage.

But a tear­ful Nikki Araguz said her mar­riage was not a fraud.

“I’m ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated about the loss of my hus­band. I’m hor­ri­fied at the hor­ren­dous al­le­ga­tions ac­cus­ing me of fraud. They are ab­so­lutely not true,” Araguz, 35, said dur­ing a brief state­ment at a news con­fer­ence.

Thomas Araguz died while bat­tling a blaze at an egg farm in Bol­ing, about 55 miles south­west of Hous­ton. The 11-year vet­eran of the Whar­ton Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment was trapped by fall­ing de­bris in a burn­ing pro­duc­tion build­ing.

In a law­suit filed July 12 in Whar­ton County, his mother, Si­mona Longoria, asked to be ap­pointed ad­min­is­tra­tor of her son’s es­tate and for her son’s mar­riage to Nikki Araguz to be voided be­cause the cou­ple were mem­bers of the same sex.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments in­cluded as part of the law­suit, Nikki Araguz was born Justin Gra­ham Pur­due and changed her name to Nikki Paige Pur­due in Fe­bru­ary 1996. It is not clear when a sex-change op­er­a­tion may have taken place.

Void­ing the mar­riage would pre­vent Araguz from re­ceiv­ing any in­surance or death ben­e­fits or prop­erty the cou­ple had, with those things go­ing to her hus­band’s heirs, said Chad El­lis, Longoria’s at­tor­ney.

A court hear­ing is planned to­day to de­ter­mine whether to ex­tend a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der granted Longoria that pre­vents Araguz from re­ceiv­ing in­surance or death ben­e­fits or hav­ing ac­cess to bank ac­counts or prop­erty the cou­ple had.

“Nikki is at­tempt­ing to make a huge money grab,” El­lis said.

But Dar­rell Stei­d­ley, one of Araguz’s attorneys, said Thomas Araguz was aware his wife had been born a man and that the cou­ple still was liv­ing to­gether at the time of his death. The cou­ple had been mar­ried for nearly two years.

“We’re go­ing to as­sert her rights as a spouse of a fallen fire­fighter,” Stei­d­ley said.

El­lis said his client’s ef­forts to void the mar­riage are sup­ported by Texas law, specif­i­cally a 1999 ap­peals court rul­ing that stated chro­mo­somes, not gen­i­tals, de­ter­mine gen­der.

The rul­ing up­held a lower court’s de­ci­sion that threw out a wrong­ful death law­suit filed by a San An­to­nio woman, Christie Lee Cava­zos Lit­tle­ton, af­ter her hus­band’s death.

The court said that al­though Lit­tle­ton had un­der­gone a sex-change op­er­a­tion, she was ac­tu­ally a man, based on her orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cate, and there­fore her mar­riage, as well as her wrong­ful death claim, was in­valid.

“The law is clear; you are what you are born as,” El­lis said.

While Phyl­lis Frye, one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, de­clined to com­ment on what role the 1999 ap­pel­late rul­ing will play in her client’s case, she said the de­ci­sion “wrecked a lot of lives.”

In April, Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Abbott’s of­fice was asked to give a le­gal opin­ion in a sep­a­rate case on an is­sue con­nected to the 1999 rul­ing.

El Paso County At­tor­ney Jo Anne Ber­nal asked for an opin­ion on whether the clerk could is­sue a mar­riage li­cense to two West Texas women if one of the women, who had pre­vi­ously un­der­gone a sex change, pre­sented a birth cer­tifi­cate that iden­ti­fied her as be­ing born a man.

The West Texas cou­ple didn’t wait and went to San An­to­nio, where Bexar County of­fi­cials granted them a mar­riage li­cense, say­ing they re­lied on the 1999 rul­ing. Bexar County has pre­vi­ously is­sued mar­riage li­censes in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

Abbott’s of­fice has yet to is­sue an opin­ion.

Pat Sul­li­van

‘I’m hor­ri­fied at the hor­ren­dous al­le­ga­tions ac­cus­ing me of fraud,’ Nikki Araguz said at a news con­fer­ence in her attorneys’ of­fices in Hous­ton on Thurs­day. The woman, whose hus­band was killed while fight­ing a July 4 fire, faces a court hear­ing to­day in a law­suit that says the mar­riage was un­law­ful be­cause Araguz was born a man and Texas does not rec­og­nize same-sex unions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.