MT v. JT, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, United States (22 March 1976)
Following a divorce, the plaintiff sued the defendant for marital maintenance and support. The trial court ordered the defendant to support the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that the marriage was a nullity on the grounds that the plaintiff, a transgender woman, had been born a man.
The plaintiff was born biologically male but identified as female. In 1971, with the financial support of the defendant, the plaintiff had sex reassignment surgery. Following surgery, she successfully applied to change her birth certificate to reflect her female gender. In 1972 the plaintiff and defendant married. They separated in 1974 and eventually divorced. The plaintiff then sued for support.
Whether a marriage between a man and a transgender woman was legally valid.
Anonymous v. Anonymous, New York Supreme Court, United States, 1971 (declaring that marriage ceremony between two males, one of whom later had sexual reassignment surgery, had no legal effect, such that parties were never bound by a marital contract; finding that whether one of the parties subsequently became a female was irrelevant).
Anonymous v. Weiner, New York Supreme Court, United States, 1966; Hartin v. Director of the Bureau of Record and Statistics, New York Supreme Court, United States, 1973 (denying recognition to transgender women).
Corbett v. Corbett (Otherwise Ashley), Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, United Kingdom, 1970 (holding that sex was biologically fixed at birth and could not be changed by medical or surgical means).
Reasoning of the Court
Both parties relied on expert evidence from medical practitioners to support their arguments.
The defendant argued that because the plaintiff had been born anatomically male and did not, and naturally could not, for marital purposes, possess female sexual organs, she could not be considered female. The centrepiece of the defendant’s argument was that gender was fixed at birth.
The plaintiff presented contrary expert evidence to suggest that, through the medical treatment she has received, her psychological and physical sex now corresponded to the extent that she should be legally recognised as female for marital purposes.
The Court opened its discussion by considering and rejecting the landmark English decision of Corbett v. Corbett. In Corbett the court had held that “biological sexual constitution” was fixed at birth and principally determinable by physical criteria. The Court rejected that view, stating that it stemmed from “a fundamentally different understanding of what is meant by ‘sex’ for marital purposes”. In contrast to Corbett, the Court stated:
The evidence and authority which we have examined, however, show that a person’s sex or sexuality embraces an individual’s gender, that is, one’s self-image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character.
The Court was willing to accept that the plaintiff’s consistent and profound emotional connection to a female gender identity, coupled with her post-operative physical and sexual identity, was sufficient to consider her to be female for the purpose of marriage. The Court concluded that “for marital purposes if the anatomical or genital features of a genuine transsexual are made to conform to the person’s gender, psyche or psychological sex, then identity by sex must be governed by the congruence of these standards”.
In making this finding, the Court placed particular emphasis on the “success” of the sex reassignment surgery. Not only did the Court require the plaintiff to have a stable and unwavering female gender identity, it also required that the medical procedures that she had undertaken had successfully created a physical sexual ability that reflected that of the female sex. The Court stated:
If such sex reassignment surgery is successful and the postoperative transsexual is, by virtue of medical treatment, thereby possessed of the full capacity to function sexually as a male or female, as the case may be, we perceive no legal barrier, cognizable social taboo, or reason grounded in public policy to prevent that person’s identification at least for purposes of marriage to the sex finally indicated.
The Court referred to the judgment of the trial judge in concluding that, rather than conducting an identity charade, the plaintiff was attempting to “remove any false facade”. In summing up, the Court held that such recognition would “promote the individual’s quest for inner peace and personal happiness, while in no way disserving any societal interest, principle of public order of precept of morality”.
The Court affirmed the decision of the court below and found for the plaintiff, holding the plaintiff was female when she married the defendant and that as such the defendant was obliged to support her following their divorce.
MT v. JT, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, United States (full text of judgment, PDF)