Although social support for GLBT individuals has grown significantly in recent years, legal support continues to lag behind the times. In particular, transgender individuals often face legal hurdles that are further complicated by how the state and federal government views their gender identities. One such complication is the risk that gender reassignment may result in their marriages being invalidated by the courts. Here's more information about this legal quagmire and what you can do to protect yourself.
How the Law Deals with Gender Reassignment During Marriage
Marriage is regulated by each state, so naturally the laws and court decisions that affect the rights of transgendered individuals are all over the place. However, judges have consistently ruled that even if someone changes his or her gender during marriage, the union will remain valid if it was considered so when the couple obtained their license.
For instance, the Indiana appeals court overturned a lower-court judge's ruling that a transgender woman's transition from male to female invalidated the marriage, making the couple ineligible for a traditional divorce. The circuit judge believed the person's assumption of a female gender identity reclassified her marriage to another woman as a same-sex union. Using Indiana's ban on same-sex marriages at the time as a basis, the judge ruled the marriage retroactively invalid.
However, the judges at the appeals court reversed the decision, stating the couple had met the legal requirements when they got married since the transgender individual was a man when the two came together as husband and wife. The fact that the person underwent gender reassignment surgery afterwards did not change the legality of their relationship. The couple's marriage was valid under Indiana law and, thus, eligible for a lawful divorce and the benefits that entailed.
Every court presented with similar circumstances has made the same ruling: gender reassignment does not void (retroactively or otherwise) a marriage that was valid at the time the couple came together. Unfortunately, this is a sword that can cut both ways.
Some courts have voided the marriages of transgender people who underwent reassignment prior to marriage because the court did not recognize the person's new gender and the marriage ran afoul of the state's ban on same-sex unions. For example, in 1999, a Texas appeals court ruled the marriage between a transgender woman and her husband to be void based on the ideology that gender is fixed at birth. Despite the fact the woman was a post-transition female, the court considered her to be legally male and rendered her marriage to her husband illegal.
Though times have changed since then, this latter situation continues to be in issue in Texas and other states. A modern-day example involves a transgender woman fighting to be recognized as her husband's widow. Despite the fact the laws in Texas allowed the woman to get a marriage license by showing a court order related to her gender reassignment, her mother-in-law filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the marriage using a combination of the Texas constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and the 1999 court decision that states people legally remain the gender they are assigned at birth regardless of any reassignment done at a later date. The case is still pending.
Protecting Your Family
Though the majority of states don't have laws that specifically address the needs of transgender individuals, you are more likely to run into problems if you're the same biological sex as your partner and you live in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. In these areas, a person could file a lawsuit challenging the validity of your union and your future would hinge on how a judge views the legality of your gender reassignment.
This could lead to a number a number of legal issues including:
- The inability to get a divorce
- Loss of survivor benefits if your spouse dies
- Inability to file lawsuits on behalf of your spouse's estate
- Inability to adopt children
- Loss of custody of non-biological children
- Inability to obtain spousal or child support orders
Even if you live in state that allows same-sex unions, you may still run into issues if you travel or temporarily relocate to less-friendly areas. The best way to protect your family is to draw up legal documentation addressing the various areas of concern. For instance, you can create a legal bond between non-biological parents and children through adoption. Power of attorney papers can provide spouses with the legal authority to make decisions on their partners' behalf if they become incapacitated in some way.
It's best to click here or connect with a family law attorney for assistance with anticipating and resolving legal issues related to marriage if you feel your gender reassignment will expose your relationship to legal problems.