Court: Floridians who have sex changes can't marry as new gender

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 7:52 pm
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Transgender people cannot marry as their new sex under Florida law, a state appeals court ruled Friday in setting aside a divorce ruling between a man _ who once was a woman _ and his wife.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland said people who undergo sex changes aren't recognized by their new sex under Florida's marriage laws, which ban same-sex marriages.

It was not known how many marriages the ruling affects since people are not required to prove their sex when seeking a marriage license in Florida.

The ruling came in the case of Michael Kantaras, who underwent a sex change operation in 1987 and then married his wife, Linda, two years later. His attorney, Karen Doering, called the court's decision ``ridiculous.''

Michael Kantaras divorced Linda Kantaras in 2002 and was awarded custody of two children _ one child which was his ex-wife's from a prior relationship, the other a daughter she bore in 1992 following artificial insemination.

The appeals court said there was no legal marriage for a Circuit Court to dissolve, and remanded the custody aspect of the case for further proceedings.

``The controlling issue in this case is whether ... the Florida statutes governing marriage authorize a postoperative transsexual to marry in the reassigned sex,'' the court wrote. ``We conclude they do not.''

Florida's Legislature needs to decide if transgender people can marry, the court said. Until lawmakers recognize sex-reassignment procedures in marriage law, the court said, a person's biological sex at birth is what must be considered when determining if a marriage is valid.

Doering, who practices law for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Tampa-based Equality Florida, said she would ask the appeals court to send the case on to Florida Supreme Court.

``Michael Kantaras is a man,'' Doering said. ``Michael Kantaras has been a man since 1987 when he completed treatment. This court has just turned common sense on its head.''

Michael Kantaras, 45, has since remarried _ a union he's being told is not valid, Doering said.

Attorneys for Linda Kantaras applauded the ruling.

``The law cannot permit a person to change their sex like one changes clothes,'' said Orlando attorney Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, a conservative law group. ``This case is a tremendous victory for traditional marriage and common sense ... A few hormones and plastic surgery do not change a person's sex.''

The Kantaras case is one of a just a few nationwide where the issue of transsexuals marrying has been considered.

The Lakeland appeals court cited rulings in Kansas, Ohio and Texas and New York and said in all cases the courts have either invalidated or refused to allow transsexuals to marry.

Doering said the appeals court is ignoring the medical community's recognition of gender identity issues as a medical condition that can be corrected only through a sex change.

The medical community recognizes people who have undergone a sex change as having a new gender even though their chromosomes, which identify someone as male or female, do not change in the procedure.

Doering said Michael Kantaras is upset over the ruling.

``This is the state saying he is not who he knows he is,'' she said. ``It's insulting and degrading.''

Gov. Jeb Bush had not reviewed the ruling and had no comment on it, a spokesman said. Legislative leaders contacted Friday also had not seen the ruling nor considered what action they might take.