Press

NGLTF Celebrates Recognition of Transgender Family

Date: 
February 21, 2003

Man Awarded Custody of Children

Today, the much-anticipated decision in Kantaras v. Kantaras was delivered by a family court in Florida, determining that a female-to-male transgender father was legally male for purposes of marriage, meaning he retained his status as father to his two children. Michael Kantaras's struggle to keep legal status as a father garnered public attention last year when the trial to determine whether his marriage to Linda Kantaras was valid in the state of Florida was covered by CourtTV.

"In most places in the country, transgender people who marry after transitioning gender must live in legal limbo - unsure of whether in times of crisis, such as divorce, custody disputes, or death, that their relationships will be legally recognized as valid marriages," according to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Transgender Civil Rights Project legislative lawyer Lisa Mottet. "Thankfully the legal limbo ended today for Michael Kantaras, and other married couples in Florida with one transitioned transgender partner, with the court's well-reasoned decision establishing the validity of the marriage."

Kantaras v. Kantaras was featured in NGLTF's recently released publication, Family Policy: Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Families, that provides detailed information about the unfair laws and policies affecting GLBT people. The publication gives greater detail about the multitude of ways that transgender people and their families are treated unfairly by the family law system in the United States. This and other NGLTF reports are available at NGLTF's publications library.

"Michael would have lost all rights to see and to raise his eleven and fourteen year-old children, and they would have lost their father if the court held against him," Mottet added. "Unfortunately, this kind of terrible treatment is all too common. We hope judges and courts across the country look to this court's lead in recognizing all types of families."

The following is a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida, who represented Michael Kantaras in his struggle for recognition of his family relationships:

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NCLR and Equality Florida Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 21, 2003

Karen Doering, NCLR Staff Attorney and Consultant to Equality Florida,

727.642.6580

Shannon Minter, NCLR Legal Director,

415.794.6694

Collin Vause, Esq., 727.799.7529

Nadine Smith, Equality Florida 813.781.6093

Florida Court Issues Historic Marriage and Custody Decision for Transgender Dad

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and local attorney Collin Vause represented Michael Kantaras in a divorce and custody case in which Michael's wife asked the court to declare him a legal stranger to the couples two children.

TAMPA (February 21, 2003) - In a groundbreaking decision, Florida Circuit Court Judge Gerard O'Brien ruled today that Michael Kantaras, a transgender man, is legally male and was legally married to his former wife Linda Kantaras, stating that "the Court has carefully reviewed all the pleadings, record evidence, expert medical testimony, lay witness testimony and the appropriate statutory authority for marriage in Florida and concludes the overwhelming weight of evidence favors declaring the marriage valid." Final Judgment at pp. 806-07. The court also awarded Michael primary custody of the two children he and Linda raised together during their marriage.

Judge O'Brien's opinion is one of a handful of decisions addressing marriages involving transsexual spouses, and one of the first in the United States to hold that such marriages are valid. The only states with similarly favorable decisions are New Jersey and California; in contrast, Texas and Kansas courts have held that marriages involving transsexual individuals are void. Internationally, courts in a number of countries have affirmed the validity of such marriages, including a very recent decision by the Family Court of Australia upholding a marriage between Kevin J., a female-to-male transsexual, and Jennifer, his wife.

After completing sex-reassignment, Michael Kantaras met and married his wife, Linda in 1989. Linda was fully aware of Michael's transgender status prior to the marriage and permitted Michael to adopt her then three month old son. The couple later had a daughter through alternative insemination. The Kantaras children are now ages 14 and 11.

When the couple divorced in 1999, the focus soon shifted away from the best interests of the children and onto Michael's transgender status. Linda argued that Michael should be considered legally female, their marriage deemed void, and his parental rights stripped away. The three week hearing, which included extensive testimony from medical experts, was covered live by Court TV last January and February.

"I'm so relieved," said an exhausted Michael Kantaras. "Now my kids and I can get on with our lives in peace."

"The court recognized that the two children in this case have a devoted, loving father and need to maintain a relationship with both their parents," said NCLR Staff Attorney Karen Doering, co-counsel in the case. "This court recognized that Michael's transgender status has nothing to do with his ability to be a good parent. Michael is a loving, responsible father who also happens to be transgender."

According to NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, "To our knowledge, this is the first transgender marriage case in the U.S. in which extensive medical evidence was presented, including testimony from three of the foremost experts on transsexualism in the country. As the Court has recognized, the medical evidence overwhelmingly favors recognizing that the law should accommodate transgender people so they can be productive, functioning members of society. This includes permitting transgender people to marry and raise children."

"This is not only a victory for the transgender community, it's a victory for the Kantaras children who deserve to have their loving father remain a part of their life," said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. "We all benefit when gender stereotypes and bigotry are defeated."

About NCLR Founded in 1977 and headquartered in San Francisco, The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national law firm dedicated to advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families. Each year NLCR serves more than 3000 clients in all fifty states. NCLR is working in partnership with Equality Florida's Legal Advocacy Project to protect the rights of Florida's LGBT community by seeking fairness and equal justice under the law.

About Equality Florida Founded in the mid 1990's and based in Tampa Florida, Equality Florida is a statewide education and advocacy organization committed to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, class and gender. Equality Florida informs and educates hundreds of thousands of people across the state about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns through its news magazine Equality News, voter guides and its Online Advocacy Center at eqfl.org.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.