A transgender father who was born a woman and won custody of his two children last week, in what is being called the first ruling of its kind, says that the children's best interests were the real issue in the case.
Clearwater Circuit Judge Gerard O'Brien ruled on Friday that Michael Kantaras, who underwent a sex change operation 17 years ago, is legally a man, and the best parent for his two children. The judge awarded him custody of Mathew, 13, and Irina, 11, and granted "liberal visitation rights" to their mother.
"I could say I was surprised," Kantaras said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today. "The children were very happy and very relieved because they know now that they can have a loving relationship with both their mother and their father," he said.
The transgender case is the first in Florida courts and the first ruling of its kind nationally that addresses the custody issue for transgender parents, said Karen Doering, one of Michael Kantaras' lawyers and a staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
"The court was really able, for the first time ever, to make a full and fair assessment of when is a man a man and when is a woman a woman, so this will truly be precedent setting," Doering said.
Doering added that the court was really able to understand the condition known as transsexualism because medical testimony was a huge part of the case.
"We were able to bring in three of the leading experts in the nation on the diagnosis and treatment of transsexualism," Doering said. "It's a condition where in their mind a transsexual person is one gender, but they are actually born into the body of another gender."
Three expert witnesses testified that people like Kantaras are defined as males in the medical community because they do not have female reproductive organs or female hormones.
Doering said the experts helped demonstrate that a transsexual person can live a very healthy life once they complete a two-year sex reassignment as Kantaras did.
Michael Kantaras, a 43-year-old bakery manager, had a sex change operation in Texas in 1986 and legally changed his name from Margo to Michael. In 1989, he married Linda Kantaras, who knew of the sex change.
Legally a Woman
After they married, Michael adopted Linda's now-13-year-old son, Mathew, from a previous relationship. During the marriage, Linda bore now-11-year-old Irina through artificial insemination with sperm from Michael's brother. The children have been living with their father for the past six months.
But the children's mother, Linda Kantaras, argued that Michael had no right to custody because he was legally a woman. Florida law bans same-sex marriages and bars homosexuals from adopting children.
Kantaras said the outcome marks a huge victory for transgendered people, but he says that he always considered that part of the case as a secondary factor.
"I focused mainly on what was in the best interest of our children, and that was my priority throughout the four and a half years of this trial," Kantaras said.
Linda Kantaras and her lawyer could not be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts, but have previously had said they would appeal if they lost.
The often-bitter child custody battle began when Michael Kantaras left his wife for her best friend.