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Archive for July, 2008

For those of you who didn’t see it there, this is my response to a comment over on TranscendGender to my post, also posted here, on the effect of the proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution banning same-sex marriage on transsexual marriages:

Liz, the best chart I know of on LGBT rights in the U.S. is EqualityGiving’s State of Equality Scorecard, which includes same sex marriage. It does not, however, deal with the question of the validity of marriages by transsexuals, whether they transition before or after marriage. Lambda Legal, NCLR and NCTE may have charts or other information specific to transsexuals.

Of the states you listed, only Texas and, I believe, Ohio, have addressed the validity of marriages involving transsexuals. In both cases, however, the dispute involved trans women who had fully transitioned, had SRS and obtained new or amended birth certificates showing them as female before they married (in the Texas case) or attempted to marry (in the Ohio case). Both cases, as well as the similar decision in Kansas, essentially said, “once a man, always a man,” regardless of what you might have done since birth. Under those decisions, an opposite-sex marriage in which one partner transitions after marriage theoretically would continue to be valid. As I said, however, as far as I know, there has never been a decision in the U.S. specifically holding that such marriages are still valid. It would seem logical that, if you’re considered to be male (or female) despite surgery, transitioning and changing your birth certificate, then it should be legal to marry a cissexual female (or male). There are some, however, who essentially argue that transsexuals are both sexes and, therefore, can’t legally marry anyone. Some foreign countries, like the U.K., have addressed the risk that permitting transsexuals to legally change their sex will result in illegal same-sex marriage by prohibiting married people from changing their sex for legal purposes, unless they first get divorced. I have one post-op trans woman friend in England who remains legally male because she and her wife want to stay married.

I don’t know of any decision in Kentucky regarding the validity of marriages involving transsexuals, whether they transition before or after marriage.

In New Jersey, a court held in 1976 that the marriage between a cissexual male and a trans woman who had legally changed her sex before marriage was valid. There is no case there, however, saying that a marriage in which one of the partners transitions after marriage is still valid. That question is unlikely to arise, since New Jersey allows civil unions that are supposed to have all of the same rights and responsibilities as marriages. (New Jersey is currently studying whether the two are truly equal, as the legislature intended. If not, they are likely to change their laws to permit same-sex marriage, as is now the law in Massachusetts and California. Once same-sex marriage is legal, this issue, of course, goes away.)

Like New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont allow same-sex civil unions. I know of no decisions in either state regarding the validity of marriages involving transsexuals, whether they transition before or after marriage. Thus, the quotation in the NY Times article [on existing marriages where one partner transitions that Liz linked to] stating that Christine Littleton could legally “marry” a man in Connecticut or Vermont is inaccurate. While she could enter into a civil union with a man in those states, there is no reason to believe she could actually marry a man there.

The whole picture gets even more complicated if you consider the fact that three states (Ohio, Tennessee and Idaho, where I was born) do not permit the change of a person’s sex on their birth certificate, whether they have had SRS or not. The State of Arizona, however, has already recognized me as female on my driver’s license. Would that designation control if I wanted to get married here? Nobody knows. Of course, I could probably walk into a courthouse, except the one here in Prescott where they all know me, show my driver’s license and obtain a license to marry a cissexual man. That’s no guarantee, however, that the marriage is actually valid. A cissexual man and a trans woman, who still had an “M” on her driver’s license, or another man (the news reports are unclear regarding whether the second partner was gay or trans) recently managed to do just that and barely escaped prosecution for providing false information on their marriage license application.

Then, consider the fact that, even though I can’t change my birth certificate after SRS, I can change my sex to female on both my passport and my Social Security records with proof of surgery. If I attempt to marry a man here, or anywhere else where same sex marriage is illegal, will the courts look to those documents, rather than my birth certificate, to determine if my marriage is valid? Again, nobody knows.

The bottom line is that the marriage rights of transsexuals are a mess, contrary to the beliefs of some gays and lesbians, who occasionally express resentment at the (mistaken) notion that we can marry persons of the same birth sex with impunity. The only fair, as well as the simplest, solution to these problems for both trans and non-trans people is to allow same-sex marriages, not civil unions, without restriction based on sex or gender. Until that happens, or there’s a hell of a lot of successful litigation in many, many states, trans people will continue to have good reason to worry about the validity of their marriages, whether they transition before or after exchanging vows with the partner of their choice.

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Recently, on one of the Arizona trans-related Yahoo groups that I belong to, one member stated her belief that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Arizona, known as Prop 102, would change the law so that “[e]xisting marriages involving a transsexual could easily be nullified.” (The proposed amendment states, “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”) Here is my response:

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Yesterday, my friend Callie wrote about the need for change in her life and came to the conclusion that only the “atomic option,” i.e. exploding the status quo that those around her seek to impose, is likely to work for her. I had a pretty powerful reaction to that idea, and wrote her a long comment, which is pasted below, in response. I know that much of what I wrote is about me, not her, and, in fact, directly relates to our discussions about the delusion of the necessity for sacrifice to get what we need during my Course in Miracles study group yesterday morning. (If you want to see what prompted those discussions, read the section called “The Time of Rebirth” in Chapter 15 of the Text of A Course in Miracles, which appears on p. 324 of the second edition, or, in ACIM speak, you can find it at T:15:X (or Text, Ch. 15, Sec. X).) But I also had a lot of other things going on yesterday, all of which led to one of the most emotional days I’ve had in a long time.

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