Texas's AG, who recently stepped into a court case from a married, same-sex couple asking to divorce in Texas, is being asked to consider a marriage license for a cis woman and a trans woman. The trans woman, Sabrina Hill, was born intersex, was assigned male, and transitioned after learning about her body at age 28. Here's a bit on her paperwork:
In February of this year, Hill and another woman asked the El Paso County Clerk for a marriage license. As proof of identification, Hill offered a New York birth certificate identifying her as a male, a Washington State court order changing her name to Sabrina, and an Arizona driver's license that identified her as a female.
They've been together for 17 years but didn't want to get married until recently. Hill's wife needed access to Hill's veteran medical benefits, so they tried to get married in El Paso but the county clerk said s/he didn't know whether s/he could give this couple a marriage license and wrote the AG to ask which document is most important.
The couple went to another county in Texas and was able to get a marriage license. The clerk there says he uses the famous Littleton case as a guideline in marriages involving transsexual people:
Bexar County Clerk Gerard C. "Gerry" Rickhoff said the marriage license was granted based on Hill's birth certificate.
Rickhoff said Bexar County's decision is based on the Littleton vs. Prange court case out of San Antonio in 1999.
In that case, Christie Lee Littleton (born Lee Cavazos before a sex change) was married for seven years until the death of her husband, Jonathan Mark Littleton. Christie Lee Littleton filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against a doctor. A judge ruled against the lawsuit, deciding that Littleton, based on the original birth certificate, was a male and therefore could not be the spouse of another man.
Rickhoff said his office approves marriage licenses to same-sex couples, depending on their birth certificate, about once or twice each year.
"As I recall, he (the judge) said you are what you are at your birth," Rickhoff said. "I don't care what they appear to me or what manner of dress. We are familiar with them, and they are well received when they come to our office."
I'm glad they got the marriage that they wanted in the end, and I hope that the AG's re-election ambitions don't make him do anything to this couple.
This case does highlight the ways a bureaucracy can work on a different plane of reality than the rest of us human beings live on. Hill's birth certificate said "male," and that's how she got a marriage license in the end. But she wasn't "male" at birth; she was physically intersex. She told the El Paso Times, "I knew what I looked like and what I was, was not the same." Signs point to the fact that she was never a "man" or "male," not in her body or her mind.
It didn't matter what she is or her history or how she views herself, but only what her birth certificate says. Instead of a marriage between two people, theirs is a union of documents. That's incorrect; rather, applying the interpretation of Texas law Rickhoff used, all marriages are unions of people with birth certificates that match up. That famous scene where Richard Cohen, the ex-gay quack, puts his two index fingers together and says that that doesn't work? Not only does he not seem to know how gay men have sex, his interpretation isn't what the law there sees either. Rickhoff's looking for an "M" to go with an "F"; chromosomes, genitalia, identity, and appearances are unimportant.
Their marriage may be annulled if the AG decides that this is a way to show off his homophobic bona fides, but recognizing Hill as the woman she is, obviously, won't the solution if he does. Getting rid of arbitrary and slippery gender requirements for marriage licenses would work for them, but not for every couple who needs health care access. A single-payer health care system would get Hill's wife the treatment she needs when she needs it, regardless of whether they're still together or married when she needs it.
But there is only so much pressure a liberal society can put on people's bodies and relationships to mold them so that they look like what the state wants. And, really, that's what this comes down to: favoring certain bodies and relationships by using disciplining tools, like documentation that inherently simplifies reality like birth certificates and marriage licenses, to dispense privileges, like access to health care.