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 [sic] husband, Capt. Thomas Araguz, a 30-year-old firefighter killed in the line of duty July 4.
UPDATE 6/2/11: Judge rules 'marriage' invalid -- so-called widow loses, then arrested for unrelated theft
UPDATE 8/16/10: Mother of fireman will oversee his estate during adjudication
-- From "Born a boy, but fighting for death benefits as widow" by Kathryn Watson, The Washington Times 8/10/10
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.
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."
The current precedent in Texas is a 1991 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."
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