Metro Weekly

Guam’s Attorney General opens door for same-sex marriage

Governor stalls change to U.S. territory's laws, however

Sunset on Guam,  Credit - Yuki Yaginuma / Flickr

Sunset on Guam, Credit – Yuki Yaginuma / Flickr

Guam’s Attorney General, Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, in a legal memorandum to the U.S. territory’s Public Health director instructing them to begin serving marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Guampdn.com reports.

The Pacific Ocean territory is covered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year ruled that marriage laws that explicitly prevent same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

Faced with a lawsuit from a lesbian couple — Kathleen M. Aguero and Loretta M. Pangelinan — arguing that Guam’s ban on marriage equality was similarly unconstitutional, Barrett-Anderson chose not to defend the law, instead issuing her decree to the Public Health Department.

“While the Department was acting in accordance with Guam law, the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision has rendered Guam’s marriage statute legally unenforceable until such time that the Supreme Court of the United States alters the holding of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals,” she wrote.

Todd Thompson, attorney for Aguero and Pangelinan, issued a statement supporting Barrett-Anderson’s decision.

“Obviously I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard but I’m cautious [whether public health] will actually comply with the attorney general’s direction,” he said.

He has cause to be concerned, as though Barrett-Anderson reportedly told Governor Eddie Calvo (R.,) that the law was “indefensible,” he and Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio (R.,) issued a statement that they were deferring any decisions on marriage licenses until the administration’s legal team has formally reviewed the case.

“If it is the will of the people of Guam to make same-sex marriage legal on Guam, then the Guam Legislature, the people of Guam’s representatives, can take action to change the law,” they said. “Or a referendum can be held giving the people of Guam a direct voice in this issue.”

As such, agencies permitted to issue marriage licenses have suspended applications from same-sex couples “until further notice.” Acting director of Public Health and Social Services Leo Casil, who received Barrett-Anderson’s original letter, will take no action until he hears from Governor’s administration.

“From my side, I just received a letter,” he stated. “It’s not a legal opinion. It’s a letter urging to issue the marriage licenses from the attorney general.”

As such, Aguero and Pangelinan will not withdraw their lawsuit. Speaking through their attorney, they noted that Barrett-Anderson was “doing the right thing,” and “hope that the governor will reconsider his apparent decision to bar same sex couples from marrying.”

A decision on the matter is expected by the end of the week.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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