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Guam to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on June 9

Same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses on June 9 in Guam, which became the first U.S. territory to legalize gay marriage. A federal judge last week struck down the territory’s ban as unconstitutional.

HOW IT HAPPENED

A lesbian couple sued April 13 after a registrar denied them a marriage license because Guam law defines marriage as between two people of the opposite sex.

Loretta M. Pangelinan, 28, and Kathleen M. Aguero, 29, based their lawsuit on a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of same-sex marriage. The U.S. District Court of Guam falls under the 9th Circuit.

The next day, Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson directed officials to immediately begin processing same-sex marriage applications, but the territory – backed by Gov. Eddie Calvo – balked.

Barrett-Anderson hired outside attorneys to represent Calvo in the lawsuit since she believed Guam should recognize gay marriage.

NOW WHAT?

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood gave the territory a couple of days to prepare to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Couples can begin applying at 8 a.m. on June 9.

Pangelinan and Aguero plan to marry June 20, their lawyer said.

Calvo called on all Guam residents to move forward now that the court has ruled.

“I ask that we all come together despite our differences of opinion, united in our common love of Guam and of each other,” the territorial governor said.

He also directed members of his cabinet to look at other regulations that might need to change because of the ruling.

WHAT ABOUT THE HIGH COURT?

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on gay marriage later this month.

However, Tydingco-Gatewood previously decided against postponing Guam’s lawsuit until after the high court’s ruling.

“It’s probably the only case in history where you have a decision one way or another and then a final decision coming within weeks – literally within weeks,” said Michael Phillips, the outside attorney hired to represent Calvo.

Currently gay couples can marry in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Guam.

OPPOSITION, SUPPORT

About 80 percent of Guam residents are Catholic, and a church official there blasted Tydingco-Gatewood’s decision.

Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron said in a statement the ruling “is not only a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for our island and the whole of humanity.”

Meanwhile, one openly gay member of the Guam Legislature hailed the ruling and said he only wished it happened sooner.

“I always felt this is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and that this is a fundament right,” said Benjamin Cruz, vice speaker of the Legislature and a retired justice.

RECORDING HISTORY

In a rare occurrence for federal court proceedings, the arguments in Guam’s gay marriage case were videotaped.

Both sides agreed to the recording, which was done as part of a pilot program that involves 14 courts across the nation.

The public will be able to view the hearing online for free in a few business days at: http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/cameras-courts

FACTS ABOUT GUAM

About 160,000 people live on Guam, an island about 3,800 miles west of Hawaii.

Its residents are U.S. citizens, but they don’t have the right to cast ballots for the country’s president.

The territory elects a delegate to the U.S. House, but the delegate is not allowed to vote on legislation. Guam has no representation in the U.S. Senate.

Status of same-sex marriage in Guam, U.S. territories

Guam’s attorney general and governor are at odds over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in the U.S. territory.

On April 15, the attorney general directed officials to begin processing marriage license applications from same-sex couples. But the governor said he wanted to study the issue more and his public health director said he wouldn’t accept such applications.

Guam would be the first territory in the nation to allow gay marriage if the attorney general’s view prevails.

Here’s the latest status of gay marriage in Guam.

IS GAY MARRIAGE LEGAL OR NOT IN GUAM?

The U.S. District Court of Guam falls under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has ruled in favor of gay marriage. Guam’s Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson said in her directive that public health department officials should process marriage license applications from same-sex couples based on the 9th Circuit’s decision in October finding state bans on gay marriage unconstitutional. But Public Health Acting Director Leo Casil said his office won’t accept applications from same-sex couples “until further notice,” the Pacific Daily News newspaper on Guam reported.

WHERE DOES THE GOVERNOR STAND?

Gov. Eddie Calvo said in a statement he respects the attorney general’s view but noted the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld state bans on same-sex marriages. (He didn’t mention that Guam falls under the 9th Circuit, not the 6th, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.) He also observed the Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments on gay marriage. He suggested Guam lawmakers could pass legislation allowing gay marriage, or voters could do so in a referendum, “if it is the will of the people of Guam to make same-sex marriage legal.” Guam Legislature Vice Speaker BJ Cruz said Calvo “has never been in favor of same-gender marriage.” Cruz said the governor would “veto whatever bill we pass.”

WHO ARE THE KEY FIGURES?

Guam’s attorney general is elected, not appointed by the governor. Barrett-Anderson previously served in the Guam Legislature and was a judge on the Superior Court of Guam for 14 years.

Calvo, the governor, was elected in 2010. The former business executive has served five terms in the Guam Senate. His official biography said, “He is a man of deep faith, guided more by Christian values than any rule of politics.” He attends Mass at a Roman Catholic church in the territory’s capital.

HOW IS GUAM DIFFERENT FROM ALABAMA?

The case has echoes of the situation in Alabama. A federal judge there ordered an Alabama probate judge must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the Alabama Supreme Court told all probate judges to refuse to issue the licenses. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to settle the issue later this year. Guam’s case is different in that no judge has weighed in.

OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES

If Guam allows gay marriage it would be the first U.S. territory to do so.

A lawsuit challenging a Puerto Rico law defining marriage as between a man and a woman has been put on hold pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said this week it will await that decision before scheduling oral arguments in the Puerto Rico case. The island’s Justice Department previously has defended the laws in court, but local Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda said last month that the department will no longer do so.

NEXT STEPS

Loretta M. Pangelinan and Kathleen M. Aguero sued early this week in U.S. District Court in Guam after their marriage application was refused last week.

The couple, both 28, say they are challenging “the discriminatory denial of their freedom to marry” in Guam.

Given the governor and health department’s resistance to the attorney general’s directive, a lawyer for the couple has said they have no choice but to move forward with their federal lawsuit. The issue of same-sex marriage is expected to go before the Supreme Court on April 28.