FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | February 21, 2003
(Tampa, FL, 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."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
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.