Marriage Equality and the Impact on Transgender Rights

Many by now have heard of the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling last month in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage a Constitutional right on the federal level.  The ruling further protects individuals seeking same-sex marriages and offers protection from any state attempt to interfere with this clear fundamental right.

A less publicized, but equally-relevant question is how the ruling applies to transgender individuals.    J. Courtney Sullivan writes in a recent New York Times Op-Ed about a Texas widow named Christie Littleton who, in 1996 after her Husband’s death at age 35 of a misdiagnosed blood clot, filed a medical malpractice suit under a state statute permitting surviving spouses to do so.

Defense attorneys fighting against Littleton’s malpractice suit successfully argued in a pretrial motion to dismiss the suit that because Christie Littleton was born a man, she therefore could not be another man’s spouse, citing to the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress in 1994.  The Judge in Littleton’s malpractice suit agreed, ruling that Christie Littleton had no standing under the state statute to file a medical malpractice suit on behalf of her deceased husband.  Incredibly, Christie Littleton’s sex reassignment procedure at age 28 had already been acknowledged by the state of Texas, as her birth certificate and driver’s license with the state both reflected that she was a female, and the Littleton’s had obtained a marriage license in the state.

J. Courtney Sullivan sees Obergefell v. Hodges as a victory for transgender individuals moving forward, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that 14th Amendment equal protection extends to “intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”  Case law in state and Federal Appellate Courts throughout the country will no doubt be changing moving forward based on the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

If you would like more information on the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling or would like information on your current marriage rights under Florida law, please contact our office  to schedule a consultation.

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