MN federal judge rules that DOMA does not apply to trans marriages

Chief US Judge  for the Minnesota District Michael J. Davis has ruled that Minnesota’s DOMA law does not apply to legal marriages entered into by transgender individuals and that therefore a union health care plan could not drop Christine Radtke from coverage under her husband’s health benefits.  

Having transitioned from male to female between 1986 and 2003, Christine married Calvin Radtke in July of 2005 in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota.  Calvin works for UPS and is therefore a member of Miscellaneous Drivers and Helpers Union Local #638 and he enrolled himself and his new bride in the union’s Health, Welfare, Eye and Dental Fund (hereinafter, the Fund) plan.

In 2008 Christine’s physician mentioned her transgender status.  Someone at the Fund didn’t like that.  The Radtke’s were informed that as of April, 2010 Christine would be dropped from the health care plan.

The Fund has learned, for the first time, that Christine underwent a male to female sex reassignment surgery prior to your marriage.

In reviewing the terms of the Fund, it is the judgment of the Claims Administrator that despite the amendment of Christine’s birth certificate and your subsequent marriage, the basis for your marriage is not one that is currently recognized under any express provisions of Minnesota Law.  Accordingly, Christine is not an eligible dependent under the Fund.

–health care fund administrators

n court lawyers for the health care fund argued that Christine was not actually a woman…a comment that can even be heard occasionally around DailyKos…and hence had falsified her Wisconsin birth certificate and her marriage was illegal based on Minnesota’s DOMA law.

Plaintiff obtained benefits from the Fund fraudulently, in particular, Plaintiff with the consent and knowledge of Calvin Radtke wrongfully obtained a replacement birth certificate from the State of Wisconsin, falsely certified on the Minnesota Application for Marriage License that one of the applicants is a man and the other is a woman, fraudulently and illegally obtained a Certificate of Marriage from the State of Minnesota, and by and through her agent Calvin Radtke, falsely represented to the Fund that Plaintiff is the legal spouse of Calvin Radtke.

And the fund filed a counterclaim accusing the Radtke’s of fraud and asking for $80,000 in damages.

Chief Judge Davis disagreed (pdf).  He ruled that the Radtke’s marriage was legal.  He stressed that the case had nothing to do with same-sex marriage.

The Fund’s role was to ascertain Minnesota law,.  It was not the Fund’s role to impose its own definitions of gender and marriage upon its participants.  In this case, the Fund ignored all evidence of the State of Minnesota’s view of Plaintiff’s sex and marital status.  The Fund’s decision was not only wrong … it was a flagrant violation of its duty under any standard of review.

The Fund’s interpretation of Minnesota law was unreasonable and wrong.  Minnesota law recognizes the Radtkes’ marriage as a marriage between a man and a woman because Minnesota law recognizes Plaintiff’s sex as female.  Every piece of evidence related to this Plaintiff that was presented to the Fund supported the conclusion that the State of Minnesota recognized her marriage – from her name change order, to her Goodhue County Court order requiring amendment of her birth certificate, to her marriage license and marriage certificate.

–Michael J. Davis, presiding

You may recall that just last year a Texas ruling invalidated a transwoman’s marriage to a deceased Texas firefighter.  Similar rulings have invalidated marriages involving transpeople in Kansas (In re: Gardiner) and Florida (Kantaras v Kantaras).

Chief Judge Davis’ ruling plainly rejects this analysis and potentially sets a new course for understanding the legal rights of transgender people to marry the people they love.  The entire case also shows, painfully, how statutes that exclude couples from marriage based on their sex can affect all members of the LGBT family.

–Phil Duran, OutFront Minnesota

We got a good win.  I just felt we were targeted and railroaded.  For two years this has just been a stressful, painful mess for Calvin and myself.  Financially, it’s been hard.  It’s been really hard.

It really blindsided us.  We’ve been called liars.  I’ve been called a man and not a woman.  It’s just crazy.

Christine Radtke

Since her benefits were canceled Radtke has undergone gastric bypass surgery in an effort to control her diabetes.

Judge Davis ruled that Christine be reinstated to coverage retroactively and reimbursed for any covered expenses.  The judge will retain jurisdiction to assure that the Fund complies with the order.

While the case was pending, the Fund actually amended its definition of eligibility to explicitly state that in deciding whether a marriage is between a man and a woman, it will recognize only “the anatomical sex of the individual at the time of birth.”  Really?  The Fund has an independent stake in the resolution of this issue?  This is truly an outrage.  The Court in this case was not in a position to address the validity of this definition because the Fund had yet to apply it to Christine (and might not).  But it might be a matter of time before another individual faces this rule.

Nancy Polikoff, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage

1 comment

    • Robyn on April 7, 2012 at 12:01 am

    …to people time and again, seemingly regardless of political party, that a man in a relationship with a transwoman is in a heterosexual relationship.

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