Christine Radtke v. Miscellaneous Drivers & Helpers Union Local 638 Health, Welfare, Eye & Dental Fund, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (2 April 2012)
Christine Radtke filed a complaint against the Fund for wrongful denial of health benefits. The matter was before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment.
The Fund provided health care benefits for eligible members and their dependents. Calvin Radtke was an employee of United Parcel Service and his health insurance was provided by the Fund. After he married Christine Radtke, he notified the Fund and provided their marriage certificate as evidence that she was his legal spouse. She was then enrolled as an eligible family dependent. When one of her gel breast implants ruptured, the Fund became aware that Radtke was identified by her physician as a “transgender individual.” The Fund continued to pay her other medical claims but eventually decided to investigate whether the marriage was legal. It then terminated Christine Radtke’s benefits on the grounds that a lawful marriage could only be contracted between persons of the opposite sex.
Christine Radtke had been declared male when she was born in Wisconsin. In her early twenties, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. She changed her name and underwent gender reassignment surgery. She also requested and received from Wisconsin a new birth certificate designating her sex as female. After receiving her new birth certificate, she married Calvin Radtke in a Minnesota civil ceremony.
Whether the terms “man” and “woman” as used in the Minnesota statutory definition of marriage meant the sex observed and recorded at the time of birth.
Whether Minnesota law considers Christine Radtke to be male or female for the purpose of marriage.
Minnesota Statute 517 (defining marriage).
Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, U.S. Supreme Court 1989.
In re Lovo-Lara, Board of Immigration Apeals 2005.
M.T. v. J.T., Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division 1976.
In re Estate of Gardiner, Supreme Court of Kansas 2002.
Kantaras v. Kantaras, Florida Court of Appeals 2004.
Littleton v. Prange, Texas Court of Appeals 1999.
In re Ladrach, Ohio Probation Court 1987.
Reasoning of the Court
The Court began by clarifying that this case was not about same-sex marriage and rejected defendant’s assertion that recognizing the Radtkes’ marriage would violate the prohibition of same-sex marriages in Minnesota. Rather the question was whether Christine Radtke had changed her sex so that her marriage was recognized as an opposite-sex marriage under Minnesota law.
The Radtkes have complied with the procedural requirements and have a marriage certificate. The marriage certificate, however, is only prima facie evidence of a valid marriage. However, the Court must look behind the marriage certificate to see whether Minnesota recognizes the Radtkes’ marriage.
The Court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that sex was an immutable biological determination at birth. The Court noted that an “individual’s sex includes many components, including chromosomal, anatomical, hormonal, and reproductive elements, some of which could be ambiguous or in conflict within an individual.” The Court stated:
It would be wholly inappropriate for this Court to invent a narrow federal definition of ‘sex’ based on the sex assigned at birth and impose that construction on a Minnesota statute. Rather, in attempting to ascertain whether the State of Minnesota views Ms. Radtke as female for the purposes of its marriage statute, the Court concludes that it is logical to look to ‘the designation appearing on the current birth certificate issued to that person by the State in which he or she was born,’ and to the official government documents issued by the State of Minnesota, including court orders and marriage certificates and licenses.
The Court found that Minnesota’s capacity to marry requirements were determined at the time of marriage and not at birth. For example, both parties must have attained the age of 18 years and both parties must not be married to anyone else. The Court found that to “apply these requirements as of some time other than the time of marriage would be absurd – divorced individuals would be prohibited from marrying, and adults could not marry because they once were children.” Furthermore, there was “nothing in Minnesota law indicating that the opposite-sex requirement . . . should be treated differently from the other capacity requirements.
Minnesota is among 43 jurisdictions, including Wisconsin, that permit individuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery to change their birth records to recognize the change of sex. The Court stated: “The only logical reason to allow the sex identified on a person’s original birth certificate to be amended is to permit that person to actually use the amended certificate to establish his or her legal sex for other purposes. Such as obtaining a driver’s license, passport, or marriage license.” The Court pointed out that Minnesota state agencies all recognized Christine Radtke as female and/or as Mr. Radtke’s legal spouse and there was thus no basis to argue that Minnesota recognized her as female for some purposes but not for others.
The Court then reviewed and distinguished non-Minnesota state law cases regarding marriage by transgender individuals. It noted that these were cases from only four jurisdictions. “In jurisdictions that do allow transgender individuals to marry someone of the opposite sex, there is no need for anyone to litigate the issue. Therefore, the lack of cases from other jurisdictions affirmatively holding that a transgender individual can marry someone of the opposite sex does not signal that most other jurisdictions prohibit such marriages.”
Furthermore, in In re Ladrach the Ohio court made clear that if Ohio did permit a person to amend his sex on his or her birth certificate following gender reassignment surgery, then the marriage would be valid. Thus Ladrach actually supported the validity of the Radtkes’ marriage in Minnesota. Both Minnesota, where the marriage occurred, and Wisconsin, where the birth certificate was issued, permitted individuals to change the sex on their birth certificates following sex reassignment surgery.
The Court denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and granted the plaintiff’s motion for entry of judgment and reversed the decision to terminate Christine Radtke from the health plan.