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Some Thoughts on Activism

My friend Michael is one of the organizers of, and the webmaster for, the Central Arizona Gender Alliance. Recently, he asked me to write a profile of myself to be posted as the feature story on the CAGA website for January 2009. Rather than start from scratch, I adapted my “Who I Am and Why I Do What I Do” post. Since I wrote that post, however, my involvement in the issues affecting our community has increased. That led to the following comments that I added to the story that will appear on the CAGA site, which I wanted to share here.

While I have this chance, I also want to say some things about activism. The trans community in this country is small, and the number of those willing to speak out on the issues that affect us is even smaller. That means that each one of us is vital if we ever want the public’s attitude toward us, and the discrimination, hate and bigotry that we face, to change. It also means that one person can have a significant impact on the direction that our community takes in addressing the issues that we face.

It sounds clichéd, but I have learned through experience the truth of the statement that if I don’t do it, if I don’t step forward and say “this is wrong and must change,” if I don’t propose solutions and work to make them a reality, then who will? The answer is no one. It happens every day. We see or hear about something that we know is wrong – another trans woman shot in Memphis, another trans woman homeless because she can’t get a job – and we stand by in silence and do nothing. Those things will never change if you don’t work to change them, even if all you can do is to say “this is wrong.” Keep in mind too that, although it is important that we in the trans community know about these injustices, it is our families and friends, our lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers, and the general public that need to hear our voices. So many people truly have no idea about the mistreatment that we suffer, how widespread it is and how few protections exist to ensure that most basic of human rights: the right to live lives of peace and dignity. Those are the people we need to speak to, because it is their sense of justice and morality that we need to invoke if we ever want things to change.

Is it scary to step forward and say, “I am trans, this is wrong and it must stop”? Of course, it is. But there are also rich rewards in showing the world that we are proud of who we are, that we refuse to cower in the darkness of ignorance and hate any longer, and in knowing that we are helping to change the world, not just for ourselves, but for people everywhere. Join me! Today do just one thing to make the world a better place to live, whether that’s giving a hug to a friend you know is having a hard time, writing a letter to the editor or simply telling your story. But, most of all, Be Who You Are!!

(Cross-posted from my personal blog.)

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Will the proposed amendment to Arizona’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage change the treatment of existing marriages in which one partner transitions?

Recently, on one of the Arizona trans-related Yahoo groups that I belong to, one member stated her belief that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Arizona, known as Prop 102, would change the law so that “[e]xisting marriages involving a transsexual could easily be nullified.” (The proposed amendment states, “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”) Here is my response:

I disagree. Prop 102 will have no more, and no less, effect on marriages in which one partner transitions after marriage than the existing statute.

That statute (ARS 25-101(C)) states, “Marriage between persons of the same sex is void and prohibited.” There is no material difference, from a legal standpoint, between a statute, or constitutional amendment, one of which says same-sex marriages are void and the other of which says that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid. Both have the same potential to invalidate existing marriages in which one partner legally changes her or his sex, if the courts choose to recognize that change for purposes of marriage, thus rendering the marriage an illegal same-sex marriage. (Note that, this is not the approach the courts in Kansas and Texas took. Those courts refused to recognize a legal change of sex for purposes of marriage. Under those rulings, a marriage in which one partner legally changes sex after marriage would continue to be valid. As noted below, however, I know of no cases in which that holding has been extended to pre-existing marriages, rather than marriages in which the partner transitions prior to marriage as were involved in those cases.)

In either case, any attempt to declare an existing marriage that was legal at the time it was first entered into, void because one partner transitions would face significant problems under the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal constitution, which always trump state law. There is a long line of cases saying that, as long as a marriage was legal when and where it was entered into, then it remains valid until and unless the partners legally divorce. That’s why people did, and still do, go to Las Vegas to get married instantly and can go back to their home states and have their marriages treated as valid, even though their home state would have imposed additional requirements, such as a waiting period or a blood test. It’s also why first cousins from Arizona can travel to a state where such marriages are legal, get married, and return to Arizona and have their marriage recognized as valid, even though Arizona law says that marriages between first cousins are “void and prohibited” (ARS 25-101(A)), which is the same language used in the ban on same-sex marriages.

The validity of existing marriages in which one partner transitions after marriage hasn’t been resolved anywhere in the U.S., at least, as far as I know, but there is no reason to think that such marriages are any more, or any less, at risk under Prop 102 than they are under existing Arizona law. Nonetheless, I think that anyone in such a marriage needs to be aware of the risk that their marriage might be challenged at some point, and take precautions, e.g., mutual wills and medical directives, to ensure that, if that happens, they will not lose all of the rights and benefits they expected to receive from being married.

Cross-posted from my personal blog.