Friday, November 12, 2004 Print This | Email This     

Transsexual jailed for lying about gender, fights for right to marry as woman

By Jessica Su, Court TV

(Court TV) — She was born a man, became a woman, was betrothed to a man, and then was thrown in jail for it.

Now, instead of paying a $500 fine on charges she lied about her gender, Sandy Gast is waging a legal battle for transsexual rights in Kansas.

Gast, 48, applied for a marriage license in February to wed her partner, George "Georgi" Somers. On March 18, however, just two days before the wedding date, Gast was jailed for lying about her sex.

Beginning Monday, a judge in the Leavenworth County Circuit courthouse will try Gast for falsely swearing on a marriage license, which carries a $500 fine.

The state opened an investigation after Somers' daughter, Crystal Call, e-mailed the Leavenworth county attorney's office in March, saying that both parties were men living as women.

Prosecutor Frank Kohl says investigators found a birth certificate and a 1999 divorce record that identifies Gast's first name as Edward.

Even if Gast truly considers himself a woman, Kohl argues, the state would not recognize the marriage. Kansas law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In addition, a 2002 state Supreme Court decision voided a transsexual marriage.

Defense attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, however, claims that Gast is legally a woman, and therefore has the right to marry a man in Kansas.

In September 2003, Gast changed the name on her birth certificate, driver's license and social security card to reflect her new female identity. Gast presented the new driver's license when applying for the marriage license.

Although Gast faces a nominal fine, Irigonegaray demanded a trial because of the principle of the case.

"This is a serious look about what makes someone a man, what makes someone a woman," said Irigonegaray, who is working for free on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Transgendered people should be treated with dignity and respect because we come out of the same genetic soup. The bigotry and violence has to stop.

"A transgendered person is someone whose penis is not in accordance with their brain," he said. "[She has] a penis and testicles but the brain of a woman."

Prosecutor Kohl did not return calls for comment.

Gast claims she knew at age 7 that she was not male. She began psychotherapy in 1999 and got a sex-change operation in October, Irigonegaray said.

A leading researcher from the University of California Los Angeles will testify that transsexuality is an issue of science, not choice, Irigonegaray said.

In compliance with a judge's wishes, Gast and Somers surrendered their marriage license, but a pastor joined them in a holy union on March 20. Somers was not charged with a crime because he was born a man and was declared the groom on the license.

Irigonegaray admitted that if Somers were living as a woman, then he had falsely identified himself as a man. However, Somers was forced to file the license as a man because Kansas does not recognize same-sex marriages, Irigonegaray said.

"To charge [Somers] would be a Catch-22," Irogonegaray said. "That's the problem with transgendered people. We label them, rather than waiting for time to be enough for them to label themselves."

The trial is expected to last three days.