Five years ago this Friday, Capt. Thomas Araguz III of the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department died fighting a massive blaze at an egg farm in Boling.
Araguz’s wife, Nikki Araguz Loyd, was on a business trip and learned of her husband’s death from another firefighter’s wife on social media. When Araguz Loyd returned to Wharton—60 miles southwest of Houston—on the morning of July 4, 2010, Thomas Araguz’s family prevented her from seeing her stepchildren.
A day after Thomas Araguz’s funeral, his mother—Simona Longoria—filed a lawsuit against Araguz Loyd, seeking to deny her firefighter death benefits. The lawsuit, which was later joined by Thomas Araguz’s first wife, Heather Delgado, alleged that because Araguz Loyd, who’s transgender, was born male, the couple’s 2008 marriage was void under Texas’ same-sex marriage bans.
The case, Delgado v. Araguz, vaulted Araguz Loyd into the national spotlight, and led to a lengthy court battle that has invoked both transgender rights and marriage equality. The case is currently on appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. However, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Araguz Loyd hopes it will soon be decided in her favor.
“I don’t care to have to fight about my gender identity, about what point did I become a woman versus a man, or was I ever even a man? It completely moots it all,” Araguz Loyd, 40, told the Observer this week. “Essentially, with the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, they have nothing. Whether I’m male or female, it’s OK to get married.”
After a state district judge in Wharton granted summary judgment to Longoria and Delgado in 2011, Araguz Loyd appealed to the 13th District Court of Appeals, which overturned the decision in 2014 and remanded the case for trial. The appeals court’s decision was seen as a victory for transgender rights, because it also effectively overturned a 1999 ruling saying sex is determined at birth and can’t be changed.
Longoria and Delgado appealed, but Araguz Loyd said if the Texas Supreme Court doesn’t soon deny their petition for review and remand the case to the trial court, her attorney will file a motion requesting that it do so.
“I’ll celebrate when I have finality, when I know that my fight is truly over, because while we do have marriage equality, there is still pending litigation disputing the validity of the marriage of a trans person based on it being a same-sex marriage, so we don’t completely have marriage equality in Texas yet, but we will,” said Araguz Loyd, who has since remarried.
Araguz Loyd began living as a woman when she was a teenager and underwent gender reassignment surgery shortly after marrying Thomas Araguz. She obtained a marriage license in Wharton County using her Texas driver’s license, which identifies her as female. Her birth certificate, from California, also states that she is female.
Araguz Loyd’s attorney, Alene Levy, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges should apply retroactively to Araguz’s case. Levy pointed to the fact that both same-sex marriage cases decided by the high court in the last two years involved plaintiffs whose spouses were deceased.
“We don’t agree that it’s a same-sex marriage … but that was the only objection that was ever raised to her marriage, and since that objection has been resolved basically, we would expect the court to deny the petition,” Levy said. “I do not, however, assume that the other side won’t make some argument.”
Kevin Parker, an attorney for Longoria and Delgado, confirmed he plans to keep fighting and still hopes the Texas Supreme Court will hear the case.
“There’s the issue regarding whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision can affect a marriage, if it existed at all, that ended years before the decision came out,” Parker said. “There’s definitely a potential effect to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and it does mean we have a higher hill to climb, but it’s still going to go on until the Texas Supreme Court says otherwise.”