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The following article was submitted by Big 3 News viewer Danielle.
Things are heating up in Texas, and, this time, it’s not just about the weather.
One month ago, Capt. Thomas Araguz, III, was one of the first responders to a blaze at an egg farm in southeastern Texas, which brought the attention of most fire departments in the area given the rural setting and lack of hydrants nearby. After serving 11 years with the Wharton County Volunteer Fire Department, Capt. Araguz became trapped by the blaze and was killed by falling debris, leaving behind his wife of two years, Nikki Araguz, and two sons under the age of 10.
In most cases, that would be the end of this tragic tale, but such was not to be.
On July 12, eight days after the tragic blaze, Simone Longoria, the mother of Capt. Araguz, filed a lawsuit to be appointed administrator of her late son’s estate and the marriage voided immediately. She alleged that her son’s widow, Nikki, and Thomas were not legally married in the state of Texas because they were both of the same sex. Nikki Araguz was born male in the state of California.
Had her late husband’s mother not filed the lawsuit, Nikki and Thomas’ two sons from a previous marriage would share an approximated $600,000 in death benefits from pensions, life insurance, and other sources. Both boys would also be granted a waiver to attend any Texas state-sanctioned college or university of their choosing at no cost, as well as their children, being the late firefighter’s grandchildren.
Instead, Longora and her attorney, Chad Ellis, filed a temporary restraining order that has seized all marital property and assets. Thus, the Araguz’s home, vehicle(s), and joint bank accounts have all been frozen, pending the trial, and will go to Capt. Araguz’s heirs should the marriage be voided in court. Their validation for doing such is based off of a Texas Appellate Court ruling from 1999 out of San Antonio, Littleton v. Prange, that stated chromosomes and original birth certificate determine gender, not genitalia.
Since the initial case, Heather Delgado, the boys’ biological mother with legal custody, joined in the suit with her lawyers, Frank E. Mann III and Ed Burwell, being added to the team, stating that they are moving forward with this case “for the sake of the children”. Mann had previously represented both Mrs. Araguz and Ms. Delgado in separate cases. Back in 2002, he represented Araguz and her former husband in a bankruptcy case. In April of 2010, he represented Delgado in the custody battle over the two boys, stating she didn’t want Araguz anywhere near them.
Mann has been disciplined by the Texas State Bar Association for ethics violations in the past. On May 6, 2010, he wrote an e-mail as a “public interest” to say that Nikki Araguz was transgender and, therefore, should be deemed ineligible to become Mayor of Wharton, an office which she was campaigning for at the time. Araguz’s lawyers allege that both Mann and Burwell are turning this case into a media circus and political move, as both men have stated interest in running for public office at the state level.
Furthermore, as the trial has progressed, Longoria and Delgado allege that Thomas knew nothing of Nikki’s transgender status until two months before his death, whereby he was allegedly so upset by the news that he left the Araguz home to live with his family and be separated from his wife. In a press conference on Wednesday, after a day in court, Araguz’s stated that they have evidence of e-mail interactions and witnesses contesting that her late husband was fully aware of her medical status and was fully supportive of such. They also state that Nikki and Thomas’ 2008 wedding may not have been legal, according to Texas State Law at the time. However according to current law, since a law passed in the Texas legislature in September of 2009 that supersedes the Appellate Court ruling of 1999, in support of “sex change for the purpose of marriage”, Nikki and Thomas were legally married up until the time of his death.
This case is almost guaranteed to become even more heated as it goes on. Both sides are very passionate about their own views. There are many members of the transgender community who will no doubt be watching this case unfold with bated breath. We shall see if this case is or is not truly “for the children”.
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