Same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses next week in Guam, which became the first US territory to legalize gay marriage. A federal judge on Friday 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 US Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of same-sex marriage. The US 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.
US 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. Tuesday.
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 US 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.
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.
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 US citizens, but they don’t have the right to cast ballots for the country’s president.
The territory elects a delegate to the US House, but the delegate is not allowed to vote on legislation. Guam has no representation in the US Senate.