Suit alleges firefighter's widow was born a man

The lawsuit claims Thomas Araguz's marriage to Nikki Araguz should be declared void because they "were members of the same sex."
July 20, 2010 7:43:01 AM PDT
It's a legal battle over a sex change and the validity of a marriage. The widow of a fallen firefighter is responding for the first time to a lawsuit challenging whether she should get any of the benefits following her husband's death. The mother and ex-wife of fallen firefighter Thomas Araguz are now fighting to have his marriage dissolved, claiming Thomas did not know his wife was born a man. And now, we're hearing a much different side of the story.

Nikki Araguz is speaking for the first time now about these allegations. She calls this a "nightmare" at a time when she is still grieving for her beloved husband. But she is speaking because she says she wants to set the record straight.

From San Francisco Monday, Nikki Araguz vehemently denied any claim that her husband didn't know at the time they were married that Nikki had a sex change.

"I'd like everyone to know that my husband, Thomas Araguz, III, Captain Thomas Araguz, III, and I had a completely honest and open relationship from the very beginning when we met in 2007," she said.

Thomas Araguz was a volunteer firefighter. He died in a blaze at an egg farm July 4 near Boling. The fire was ruled accidental.

His mother, Simona Rodriguez Longoria, and ex-wife, Heather Delgado, have filed suit at the Wharton County Courthouse, claiming he did not know Nikki had been born a man.

Citing the state constitution and family code, they allege the marriage should be declared void because they "...were members of the same sex."

Nikki Araguz finds that preposterous.

"No one knew him better than I did," she told us. "No one knew me better than he did."

Araguz says her husband knew fully that she was born a man. She says they were married at the time she physically became a woman.

"He was with me through the operation," she told us. "He didn't physically go with me, but we were already married prior to the operation."

But Attorney Frank Mann has a different take. He represents Araguz's ex-wife.

"She deceived Thomas into marrying her," he said.

Mann says he confronted Thomas Araguz with Nikki's original birth certificate -- and original name -- during a deposition just two months ago.

"He was shocked to learn to see the birth certificate that I had. I had a certified copy of Nikki's birth certificate," Mann said. "I deposed him first and asked him questions, and basically, he was shocked to learn he was a man."

Nikki Araguz says she was born June 4, 1975 as Justin Graham Purdue, just as it is alleged to have been in court documents filed by Thomas Araguz's ex-wife and mother. She says she changed her name in 1996 to Nikki Paige Purdue.

Being born male, she likens to having a birth defect.

"When you say 'birth defect,' do you mean being born male?" we asked her.

"The birth defect that I had essentially was a not a problem to my husband," she said.

Thomas Araguz's mother has refused to comment on the allegations. His ex-wife could not be reached for comment.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday at which we expect to learn more about this case.

The Transgender Foundation of America is coming to the defense of Nikki Araguz, releasing a statement which says in part, "TFA hopes that the Texas judicial system will quickly dismiss this frivolous attempt to rob Mrs. Araguz of her rightful possessions. I cannot imagine the tremendous pain that she must be going through, being attacked by her own family during her time of mourning."


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