WHARTON, Tex.—The wife of a Texas firefighter killed in the line of duty won't receive any of his death benefits, thanks to the man's ex-wife, a Texas district court judge and the fundamentalist legal organization, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
The problem? Firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz's wife Nikki (pictured) used to have male genitalia before sex reassignment surgery, and according to Judge Randy Clapp of the 329th District Court of Wharton County, that meant that Nikki was a male—and therefore couldn't have been married to Thomas.
Part of the problem involves the fact that in 1999, a Texas appeals court ruled that at least for purposes of marriage, sex reassignment surgery meant nothing; if a person was born male, "he" remained male, no matter what surgery had been performed.
However, according to a 2009 law passed by the Texas legislature, court orders recognizing a change in name or sex can be used for identification purposes in obtaining a marriage license—but the law doesn't tell county clerks whether a court-recognized sex reassignment takes precedence over the 1999 appeals court ruling, or vice versa—and same-sex marriage is illegal in Texas.
Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions, primary among them being whether Thomas knew Nikki was a transsexual before they were married. It's well established that her reassignment operation occurred after the marriage, so unless Thomas had never seen his bride naked before marriage and/or never had sex with her after the marrying her—in the modern world, sadly, both are possibilities—he could hardly not have known.
"My husband knew my entire history," Nikki said shortly after her husband's death, and the video obtained by MyFoxHouston of a 20-something Nikki discussing her sexuality certainly suggests that she made no secret of her transgendered condition.
It's also been noted in several news stories that the couple separated in May, 2010, two months before his death, with the ADF and other religious organizations' blogs attributing that development to Thomas' "finding out" that his wife was born male—but Thomas apparently never told anyone that that was the reason, and certainly, couples separate for any number of reasons.
What's at stake here, however, aside from the rights of transgenders in Texas, is Thomas' estate, which is valued at about $600,000. The legal action which gave rise to Thomas' and Nikki's marriage being declared null and void was filed by Thomas' mother, Simona Longoria, who's also the administrator of his estate—and a client of Ellis & Irwin LLP, part of the "ADF alliance," in the matter. Also involved is Thomas' ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of Thomas' two children.
"We anticipate Heather, the mother of the children, our client, will be in charge of that trust and will need court approval or approval of the trustees of that particular trust for any monies that she may spend on behalf of the children," Frank Mann, one of Delgado's attorneys, said.
However, due to the court ruling, Nikki wil be ineligible to receive any assets of the estate. She is reportedly planning to appeal Judge Clapp's ruling.