New motion filed in transgender widow case

WHARTON, TX A month ago, Wharton volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz died in a huge warehouse fire. A few days after a funeral that filled the Wharton Civic Center, the lawsuits began, revealing that his wife was transgender at the time of their marriage.

"It is a living nightmare and it's not getting any easier," said Nikki Araguz, Thomas Araguz's transgender widow. "Every day, I miss my best friend and my husband."

Nikki Araguz and her late husband's family are locked in a bitter battle over life insurance and death benefits. At issue is whether their marriage was valid.

One pension policy made Nikki Araguz the beneficiary. In the relationship box is the word 'other,' rather than 'spouse.' She and her attorneys argue there was a ceremony. The couple lived together and represented themselves as man and wife.

"So there is no doubt that from September 2, 2009, they had a legal informal marriage," said attorney Phyllis Frye.

It's known as common law marriage, and on Monday, Nikki Araguz's lawyers filed papers contending the union was legal.

Attorneys for the Araguz family argue that despite her later sex change operation, the marriage isn't legal in Texas.

"In this case, an individual who has a sex change from man to a woman under Texas law is still construed as a man because at birth, genetically they were a man," said Ed Burwell, who's representing the family.

The case may be destined for the Texas Supreme Court or the high court of the nation, says our legal analyst.

"If this tests the gay marriage through the probate court, through the Supreme Court, there's not going to be enough money at the end of day, for people to enjoy it," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Last week, Nikki Araguz was cut a $60,000 check by a pension fund for the estate of her late husband. The court has ordered it frozen. However, Thomas Araguz's family says they're not going to contest the check.

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