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Transgender divorce raises new issues in Texas

In almost every divorce exist some arguments -- who should get the house or how much time the children should get with each parent, for example. Rarely, however, is there a dispute over whether the husband is a man or a woman. But that's the central issue in a current divorce case in Dallas County.

The husband in the couple is a transgender man, and has been since the couple married 12 years ago. But when they elected to split up, the wife requested that a judge declare the marriage void, because her husband was born female. Since same-sex marriage isn't recognized in Texas, the wife reasoned, the marriage was never valid in the first place. Last week the judge in the case declined the motion, which means their legal breakup can take the form of a divorce.

The ruling is significant for a number of reasons. For the husband, who is physically disabled, it means he can seek a more fair division of property than he would get if the marriage were declared void. But it also provides more context for other divorcing transgender couples in Texas.

It's a radically different outcome from another high-profile case in which a transgender woman sought death benefits after her firefighter husband died on the job. The judgment was denied and the benefits went to her husband's family instead, because the judge said the woman was born as a male.

The motions to declare these marriages void have some legal footing. A San Antonio Appeals Court ruled in 1999 that gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed. But GLBT advocates insist that the decision is unconstitutional and doesn't apply to the rest of Texas.

But why should gender matter to anyone outside the couple themselves? As with so many typical divorces, the issue seems to be about money, whether it's division of property or spousal support. The couples may have a different perspective of male and female identity, but we all recognize the color green.

Source: Dallas Voice, "Trans man wins first round in divorce battle," John Wright, Dec. 1, 2011

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