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Gender, Law, and Marriage: We've Got a Ways to Go

Gender, Law, and Marriage: We've Got a Ways to Go

"How do we define legal gender? By chromosomes? By genitalia? By spirit? By whether one asks directions when lost?"

A fascinating essay written by a transgendered woman underscores the complexity of gender identities in the US along with analysis of how the arbitrariness of marriage laws ignores that reality.

Jennifer Boyland and Deirdre Finney got married in 1988, at which point Boyland identified as male. By 2000, Boyland had begun transitioning to female. Deirdre remained married to her, which meant that, technically, they were in a same-sex marriage in a state that didn't recognize them at the time. (Maine has since became the fifth state in the US recently to recognize same-sex marriages.)

Imagine, if you will, basically being unrecognized by a government you elect and pay taxes to. To find out some of the more absurd cases,


  • Some states don't recognize sex changes. So if Boyland moved to such a state, she would only be able to wed another woman. (Try getting your head around that for a moment.)
  • J’noel Gardiner in Kansas, a postoperative transsexual woman, married her husband, Marshall Gardiner, in 1998. When he died in 1999, she was denied her share of his $2.5 million estate by the Kansas Supreme Court on the grounds that her marriage was invalid.
  • A 1999 ruling in San Antonio (Littleton v. Prange) allowed marriages only if the parties had different chromosomes. This meant that a lesbian could marry a transgendered male-to-female or a woman with androgen insensitivity syndrome. (People with AIS are genetically male, with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell, but because their bodies are unable to respond to certain male sex hormones, they may have mostly female sex characteristics or signs of both male and female sexual development.)
  • Her lawyer drew up this dizzying hypothetical regarding the law's absurdity with respect to her identity: ". . . Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, TX," he mused, "is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, TX, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

It seems about time that citizens with gender identities that don't fit into the rigid binary male or female are recognized with respect by the law. Here's to hoping we get there soon!


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