Our Legal and Policy Work
Because legal family relationships are often tied to a person’s legal gender, transgender people can sometimes experience legal problems in connection with their relationships with significant others, spouses, children, or other family relationships. At Transgender Law Center, we advocate for the rights of transgender spouses, parents and children.
Unfortunately, those relationships are not always respected: Courts sometimes deny custody or legal parentage to transgender parents because they believe incorrectly that having a transgender parent will somehow be harmful to the child. Courts may also need education in cases involving custody of a transgender child when an unsupportive parent may argue that the other parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or expression is not in the best interest of the child. Fortunately, such arguments are losing steam as courts and the broader society learn more about transgender parents and transgender children.
A Maryland couple, Michael (a transgender man) and Brittany Conover, separated one year after Brittany gave birth to their son, Jaxon. They had married in the District of Columbia as a same-sex couple a few months after Jaxon was born. When the couple filed for divorce, Brittany indicated that Jaxon had no other legal parent, because Michael was not legally male and Jaxon had not been born during the marriage. The trial court and the Court of Special Appeals held that Michael was not a legal parent to Jaxon.
When Free State Legal, representing Michael, filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—Brittany’s lawyer responded with a brief that included a litany of incredibly offensive arguments about transgender parents. The brief essentially asserted that transgender people were unfit to be parents because other children might call a child like Jaxon transphobic names and “shun” him.
TLC filed an amicus brief to educate the court about who transgender people are and to rebut Brittany’s lawyer’s offensive language and arguments about transgender parents. The brief was co-written with Jennifer Kent, Esq., and joined by the National Center for Transgender Equality, Our Family Coalition, PFLAG, COLAGE, and FORGE.
Read the brief.
Jake Miller, who uses the stage name Buck Angel, and his wife Elayne Angel were married in Louisiana. The marriage took place after Jake had obtained a California court order recognizing his male gender and had been living as a man for years. His California birth certificate was also amended to reflect his male gender, but not until several years after the marriage. In an effort to avoid paying spousal support, Elayne attempted to argue that their marriage was invalid on the grounds that Jake’s birth certificate had not yet been amended to reflect his male gender at the time the Louisiana marriage took place.
With the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of Jake. The Superior Court of California ruled that Jake was legally male, and found that Louisiana law would recognize this as a marriage between a man and a woman.
Thomas Beatie has lived as a man for the past 15 years. Before he and his wife married in 2003, Mr. Beatie had undergone significant medical treatment as part of his gender transition, including surgery and hormone treatment, and legally changed the gender marker on his birth certificate. However, an Arizona Superior Court denied the couple’s request for a divorce, holding that Thomas was legally female because he had given birth to the couple’s children. The couple appealed that decision to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Transgender Law Center’s amicus brief clarified for the Court of Appeals that Thomas had met all the legal and medical requirements to be recognized as male and that the couple’s marriage was therefore a valid different-sex marriage. The brief also pointed out that a state could not impose a requirement that a transgender person be sterilized or otherwise refrain from having biological children before they can be legally recognized in accordance with their gender identity. That kind of requirement would violate the well-established constitutional right to have children and would unfairly punish the couple’s children by denying legal recognition to their parents’ relationship.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that that Thomas was legally a man and therefore the marriage was valid, and allowed the couple’s divorce to go forward.
Policy & Advocacy
Transgender Law Center co-sponsored legislation in California providing that youth in foster care should be housed according to their gender identity. The bill was signed by the Governor and went into effect in January 2016.
J.H. is an MTF nurse in Sacramento who entered into a valid different-sex marriage in Oregon in 2005, prior to her transition. In 2010, she and her spouse were audited by the IRS, and they were asked to provide documentation about a home they owned. Included among the documentation were their California driver’s licenses, which indicated that they were both female. The IRS then denied the property tax deduction and changed JH’s filing status to “single,” saying that as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), their marriage was not recognized by federal law. Together with the DLK Law Group, Transgender Law Center contacted the IRS and presented evidence establishing that under state and federal law, a marriage that is valid and between different-sex partners at the time it is entered into remains valid thereafter until death or divorce. The IRS accepted this evidence and restored J.H. and her spouse’s filing status to “married.”
J.R. is a cisgender female state employee in Butte County, California. In 2010 her spouse transitioned from male to female. As a result, J.R.’s employer improperly reclassified J.R.’s spouse as her registered domestic partner for health insurance benefit purposes, an action that would have caused J.R. and her spouse to have to pay extra taxes on the cost of that insurance benefit each year. Fortunately, J.R. contacted Transgender Law Center, and we submitted evidence to the state agency’s legal counsel establishing that under state and federal law, a valid marriage between different-sex partners is not subsequently invalidated or “converted” to a domestic partnership as a result of one spouse’s transition. The agency agreed and restored the couple’s status to “married” in the agency’s records.
Find Legal and Policy Work By Issue Area: