HOUSTON -- The transgender widow of a Wharton County firefighter, whom a judge ruled was not entitled to her late husband’s death benefits because she was born a man, is challenging Texas law once more by attempting to get married again.
Nikki Araguz, 38, was the transgender wife of Wharton firefighter Thomas Araguz. He died fighting a blaze at a Wharton County farm in 2010.
Araguz's family -- when they found out Nikki Araguz was born a male named Justin Purdue -- challenged her rights to the benefits. They argued that the marriage should be declared null and void because the Texas Constitution effectively bans same sex marriages.
A judge agreed that, although Araguz had her original California birth certificate amended to show that she is now female, Texas law goes by the original birth certificate that shows Araguz/Purdue was born male.
Araguz, with a documentary film crew following her every move, went to the Harris County Clerk’s Office in downtown Houston on Thursday with her new fiancé William Lloyd to obtain a marriage license.
"I'm the transgender widow of the firefighter,” she announced to the clerk and presented as her form of identification a proof of sex change document. Under the state family code it is listed as an acceptable form of identification along with a driver’s license or a passport. And it was the crux of Araguz’ argument that she should be allowed to get a marriage license.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, after conferring with the Harris County Attorney, denied her marriage license application.
"Unfortunately we're not going to be able to issue this,” he told Araguz as the film crew, taping for a documentary about Araguz, recorded the entire exchange.
"This is an acceptable form of identification according to your 2009 family code but you're denying me one,” Araguz said.
"Denying it per the constitutional amendment,” Stanart said.
Professor Gerald Treece of the South Texas College of Law says Araguz is following the same argument she already lost in court. Texas law -- as was the ruling in Araguz’ original case -- goes by the original birth certificate, not an amended one. Araguz’ original birth certificate shows she was born a male. Under current Texas law she would always be considered a male. Therefore the Harris County Clerk denied Araguz a marriage license based on the interpretation she was marrying another man.
"The law on whom can marry whom in the state of Texas it’s very clear under our constitution,” Treece said. “You have to have one man and one woman."
Araguz’ reference to the family code that allows sex change documents as proof of identification for a marriage license was an invalid argument according to Treece. The only way it could be successfully used as a form of identification for the marriage license, under current Texas law, is if Araguz were marrying a woman.
"Unfortunately that's all I can do today. But I'm sorry,” Stanart said.
"Well be prepared to answer a lot of questions. And shame on you. Shame on your office for denying this,” Araguz said.
"I'm sorry sir but you are not following the 2009 family code,” Araguz said.
"The constitution will trump the family code,” Stanart said.
Next week the original ruling that denied Araguz death benefits from the first marriage will be heard by the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. Araguz says she and Lloyd will take part in a wedding ceremony immediately after that hearing, marriage license or not.