Texas court again affirms sex is determined at birth, not changed by surgical procedures

ADF provided funding for case involving man who married heroic firefighter by disguising himself as a woman
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ADF attorney sound bite:  Austin R. Nimocks

WHARTON, Texas — Relying on a previous ruling that sex is determined at birth and not changed by later surgical procedures, a Texas court Thursday declared that the “marriage” of a man who led another man to believe he is a woman is null and void. The Alliance Defense Fund provided funding for the case.

The summary judgment order came in the estate proceedings of Capt. Thomas Araguz, a Wharton volunteer firefighter who tragically died battling a fire two months after separating from the person he married when he discovered that person was actually a male posing as a female. Justin Purdue, who legally changed his name to “Nikki” in 1996, went to highly convincing lengths, including surgery, to make himself appear to be a female.

“A person’s sex is a biological fact, not a state of mind, and altering one’s outer appearance doesn’t change that,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Austin R. Nimocks. “The court was right to uphold marriage by affirming the reality that a person’s sex cannot be changed.”

In its order, the 329th District Court of Wharton County declared that Araguz “was not married on July 4, 2010, the date of his death, and it is further declared that any purported marriage between the Decedent and Nikki Araguz prior to Decedent’s death was void as a matter of law.” The court’s ruling was based, in part, on a previous Texas appellate court ruling which found that a person’s sex is defined at birth and is not changed by surgical procedures. In addition, the Texas Constitution and Family Code both only recognize marriage between a man and a woman.

“The district court adopted the position which was wisely written and handed down by the Texas Court of Appeals,” said lead counsel Chad Ellis. “In answering the question, ‘can a physician change the gender of a person with a scalpel, drugs and counseling, or is a person’s gender immutably fixed by our Creator at birth?’ the appeals court determined that gender is fixed, saying, ‘There are some things we cannot will into being. They just are.’”

Purdue, who started taking hormones at the age of 18 to appear more like a female, successfully kept his identity as a male hidden from Araguz even after they obtained a marriage license in August 2008. When Purdue had surgery to remove his genitalia a few weeks later, he kept the procedure clandestine.

When Araguz finally learned last year that Purdue was a male, he separated from Purdue but died in the line of duty two months later while heroically battling a fire. Araguz’s mother, Simona Longoria, the official administrator of her son’s estate, filed suit through the firm Ellis & Irwin, LLP to have the marriage declared void in the case, In the Estate of Thomas Trevino Araguz. Ellis and attorneys Leland Irwin and Justin Hodge are three of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.