PHOENIX (CN) - The so-called "pregnant man," a transgender man who gave birth to three children, can divorce his wife, the Arizona appellate court ruled Wednesday.
In a decision lauded as a major victory for transgender marital rights, the three-judge appellate panel unanimously reversed a family court judge who had questioned the validity of Thomas and Nancy Beatie's 10-year marriage.
Thomas Beatie had been born Tracy Lagondino in Hawaii but identified as male growing up, according to the ruling. After going through testosterone and other gender-related therapy, including surgery that made his chest "male-contoured and male-appearing," Thomas had "the legal gender status reflected upon his Hawaii driver's license from female to male" in 2002.
He married Nancy on Hawaii in 2003, and the couple made headlines when Thomas carried their children because his wife could not do so. The couple ultimately had three children in Oregon between 2008 and 2010.
The couple filed for divorce in Arizona in 2012, but Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Douglas Gerlach determined that he lacked jurisdiction to rule on the case.
Gerlach found that Thomas could not be called a male because he had given birth to three children, and that child-bearing was a uniquely female trait. As such, the judge found, the Beaties had entered into a same-sex marriage between two females, which Arizona does not allow.
In reversing that finding Wednesday, the Arizona Court of Appeals noted that the case had nothing to do with same-sex marriage rights.
Rather it had involved "whether the laws of the state of Arizona allow a marriage, lawfully entered into in another state, between two persons the foreign state formally recognized at the time of the marriage as male and female, to be dissolved."
There is no question that, in Hawaii, Thomas legally changed his gender, the panel found. Any further investigation of whether his subsequent pregnancies somehow altered that fact was up to the state of Hawaii, not the divorce court, the court added.
"Therefore, the possibility of Thomas giving birth to children did not preclude him from legally amending his birth certificate under the plain language of the Hawaii statute," Judge Kenton Jones wrote for a three-judge panel. "Further, there is no apparent basis in law or fact for the proposition that in the event Thomas gave birth after having modified his gender designation, it would have abrogated his 'maleness,' as reflected upon the amended birth certificate."
Jones added that, "as the Beaties' Hawaii marriage was lawfully entered in Hawaii and is not deemed void by Arizona law, the marriage is valid within this state."
Divorce proceedings must resume in Maricopa County Superior Court on remand.
Thomas' attorney, David Cantor, called the ruling "a landmark decision in recognizing transgender person's marital rights not only in Arizona, but throughout the United States."
Thomas said in statement that he feels he has "finally been recognized in Arizona as not just a man, but a human being."