Transgender People and Marriage Laws

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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.

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 is the law of the land 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 the six states and the District of Columbia that currently permit all couples to marry regardless of sex or gender. If you have questions or concerns, talk to an attorney or contact Lambda Legal’s Legal Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336 or www.lambdalegal.org/help.

December 5, 2012