In a case that could have implications for transgender individuals in Colorado and across the nation, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in late December that the state’s laws against same-sex marriage do not automatically void a legal marriage if one party changes their gender. The case involved two women, one of whom was transgender. The couple wed in late 1999, separated in 2008 and filed for divorce in 2012. The transgender woman had legally changed her birth certificate gender designation from male to female in 2008. On this basis, a lower court judge rejected the divorce petition on the basis that the marriage was void since state law provides that a marriage can only be between a male and a female. The statute in question also provides that the state will not recognize marriages between same-sex couples that are legally performed in another jurisdiction.
On appeal, the appellate court addressed the issue of what happens when a person changes gender after the fact. The court noted that the couple met the criteria for a legal marriage when they wed. It further stated that the intent of the law was to prevent the recognition in Indiana of the marriages of same-sex couples legally married in another state, and not to void marriages that had been legally performed in Indiana.
The appellate court determined that the lower court judge had gone beyond the bounds of her authority in her interpretation of the statute. The transgender woman could have had her parental rights terminated, but the new ruling will not change those rights, and the couple will be able to legally enter into an appropriate divorce settlement.
Family law continues to evolve as the battle for marriage equality continues. As this case shows, it can affect not only the marriages themselves but divorce, child custody and visitation as well.
Source: The Advocate, “Indiana Appeals Court: Gender Change Does Not Void Marriage“, Parker Marie Malloy, January 02, 2014