One of the worst moments for any elected official is when they realize their administration accidentally allowed a marginalized group some basic rights of citizenship, and that they now have to go to all the time and trouble of taking it back. That’s the situation Texas governor Rick Perry is in; although right now trans people can marry partners of the opposite sex, Perry says that he “never intended” to sign a bill allowing that privilege, and is now threatening to ban marriages for transgender people.
According to Perry, this is a commonsense interpretation of Texas’s legal belief that “marriage is between one man and one woman.” Apparently the governor reads that (deeply inherently flawed!) edict as obviously referring to biological sex at birth with no possible room for ideas about gender. His idea would, of course, also have consequences for intersex people and possibly other groups; his considered and compassionate response to this is “It is an emotional issue. I can appreciate that.” No word yet on what “appreciating” this means, as it appears not to mean taking into account the lives or families of the people who would be affected by it. His thinking is apparently based on a 1999 court decision that legally defines gender at birth:
“The legislation by Williams, of Houston, and Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, of Brenham, would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married, effectively requiring the state to recognize a 1999 state appeals court decision that said in cases of marriage, gender is assigned at birth and sticks with a person throughout their life even if they have a sex change.”
Well! That sounds enlightened, doesn’t it?
There’s concern that if this proposed change were to pass, it would not only prevent trans people from marrying, but invalidate all current marriages of trans people in the whole state. For instance, there’s the case of Nikki Araguz, whose late husband’s family is trying to keep her from inheriting any of his estate by claiming that their marriage wasn’t legal in the first place, because Nikki’s gender is really male.
No one seems to know whether or not this would really come to pass. There seem to be more questions than answers with the governor’s plan overall – maybe most obviously, how do you “unintentionally” sign a bill?
The current legal stance on marriage for trans people was a provision to a larger bill that passed two years ago, but it doesn’t seem to have been a case where the clause about marriage was buried in the fine print in between a bunch of zoning laws, where someone whose entire job it is to read and understand the laws they’re enacting could have missed it.
Furthermore, the provision has for the last two years allowed trans people to marry the opposite sex with proof of sexual reassignment surgery – while it’s not acceptable to define trans status solely on surgical history, it does show that the state at least has a criteria after which it agrees to accept someone’s gender identity. Is Governor Perry outlawing that, too? Also confusing: if trans marriages to people of the opposite sex are to be made illegal because they’re actually same-sex marriages, does that mean gay or lesbian trans people can now marry people of the same sex? Somehow it seems unlikely that Perry will be willing to let that happen, even if it is perfectly permissible according to the back-asswards logic he’s trying to turn into law.
The bottom line is that the premise that the state of Texas is basing this move on is deeply disrespectful to trans people and completely inexcusable. Perry’s claim that a trans person marrying someone of the opposite sex violates the “marriage is between one man and one woman” policy is an attempt to invalidate trans people’s lives and identities; it’s a straightforward statement from the government that’s supposed to protect our rights that trans people are no better than liars or delusional, and that they therefore don’t deserve the rights that others do.
Given the incredible hardships that many trans people endure in order to live the lives they were meant to, and the sacrifices and losses they are forced to undergo because of their trans status, this officially sanctioned outright dismissal of their identities and their struggles is worse than misguided; it’s cruel, and it’s horrifying to think that people like Nikki Araguz could have the marriages and families that they’ve fought so hard for suddenly pulled out from underneath them by an official with a backwards agenda. But hey, Rick Perry and his staff “welcome your comments and concerns” according to their website, so why not let them know how you feel?