Introduction and Erin and Dane’s Story

Introduction and Erin and Dane’s Story

It may seem obvious that the government has no business weighing in on your gender when it comes to whom you marry. Yet LGBT people continue to endure interference at the state and federal levels when it comes to respect for their relationships. This discriminatory landscape has permitted some courts—often at the behest of hostile ex-spouses—to invalidate marriages where one or both parties is transgender.

(To read our FAQ about transgender people and marriage, click here.)

Transgender people going through divorces, inheritance battles or custody disputes are particularly vulnerable to legal challenges to the validity of their marriages because the rules out there are so inconsistent. Some states recognize a person’s gender transition for purposes of entering a different-sex marriage; others don’t. Some states allow same-sex couples to marry; others don’t.

Until the freedom to marry for same-sex couples exists in every state and gender is irrelevant on wedding licenses (and therefore also irrelevant to all of the state and federal responsibilities, rights and benefits that go along with being married—such as the ability to inherit without a will, to apply jointly for insurance policies, to adopt jointly, to receive Social Security survivor benefits, to file joint tax returns, and so on), Lambda Legal is working to ensure that transgender people’s gender identity is respected for the purpose of marriage.

It’s important for the government to recognize gender identity because doing so honors who someone really is and because otherwise people miss out on rights, responsibilities and privileges guaranteed to everyone else. And it’s important for marriage equality advocates to include transgender people because their relationships so easily fall victim to these discriminatory laws.

We have seen a dramatic increase in public support for marriage equality in recent years, and new states appear poised to join those, along with the District of Columbia, that currently permit all couples to marry regardless of sex or gender.

OUR STORY: QUEER ACTIVISTS GET HITCHED
Erin Schmitt, 30, and Dane Menkin, 38

Erin and Dane met in 2002 at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival five years before Dane transitioned from female to male. They married in 2008, have two children together and own a house in Philadelphia.
 
Erin: Part of the reason we didn’t have a public recognition of our marriage till recently is because it took us a long time to reconcile being active members in a big queer community and being able to do something that most of our friends in Pennsylvania don’t have access to. We weren’t looking to challenge a political system—and then kind of inadvertently did. 

Dane: The first advice that I would give people in our situation is the same advice you would give anybody, which is make sure that you’re getting married to somebody that you want to be with forever, not just because you’ve assumed this really cool new privilege. It’s marriage.

The other thing I would say is, spend some time and recognize where you come from if before your transition you wouldn’t have been able to marry. Likely some of the people you know don’t have access to it. So don’t forget that.

Erin: For queer folks, there are so many different ways to do things; it’s kind of awesome not having the expectations of having to do things in a certain way. And if you’re a trans couple, marriage can be a piece of that.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Legal Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.