Lawrence Roach agreed to pay alimony to the woman he divorced, not the man she became after a sex change, his lawyers argued in an effort to end the payments.
But the ex-wife's attorneys argued Tuesday that the operation doesn't alter the agreement.
Less than a week after commissioners in nearby Largo drew national attention by firing the city manager after he announced he was a transsexual, lawyers for Roach and his ex-wife grappled in another transsexual rights case that delves into relatively uncharted legal territory.
Only a 2004 Ohio case has addressed whether or not a transsexual can still collect alimony after a sex change, those involved say.
"There is not a lot out there to help us," Circuit Judge Jack R. St. Arnold said.
Roach and his wife, Julia, divorced in 2004 after 18 years of marriage. The 48-year-old utility worker agreed to pay her $1,250 a month in alimony. Since then, Julia Roach, 55, had a sex change and legally changed her name to Julio Roberto Silverwolf.
"It's illegal for a man to marry a man and it should likewise be illegal for a man to pay alimony to a man," said John McGuire, one of Roach's attorneys. "When she changed to man, I believe she terminated that alimony."
Silverwolf did not appear in court Tuesday and has declined to talk about the divorce. His lawyer, Gregory Nevins, said the language of the divorce decree is clear and firm — Roach agreed to pay alimony until his ex-wife dies or remarries.
"Those two things haven't happened," said Nevins, a senior staff attorney with the national gay rights group Lambda Legal.
Arnold found fault with several of Roach's legal arguments and noted that appeals courts have declined to legally recognize a sex change in Florida when it comes to marriage. The appellate court "is telling us you are what you are when you are born," Arnold said.
An Ohio appeals court ruled in September 2004 that a Montgomery County man must continue to pay alimony to his transsexual ex-wife because her sex change wasn't reason enough to violate the agreement.
Roach, who has since remarried, said he has been unable to convince state and federal lawmakers to tackle the issue. He said he will continue to fight.
The case is the second transsexual rights showdown in Pinellas County in less than a week. On Friday, city commissioners voted 5-2 to fire Largo's city manager, Steve Stanton, after he announced he was a transsexual.