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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Couple Challenges Guam’s Gay Marriage Ban

(CN) - A lesbian couple in Guam on Monday challenged the island's ban on same-sex marriage in Federal Court, citing the 9th Circuit's lifting of all such bans circuitwide this past year.

Kathleen Aguero and Loretta Pangelinan sued Guam governor Eddia Baza Calvo and the territory's vital statistics registrar Carolyn Garrido in a 25-page complaint filed in the District Court of Guam on Monday.

The couple says that "despite the clear pronouncement from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that laws 'preventing same-sex couples from marrying impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms,'" the Guamanian government has continued to enforce its statutory ban on same-sex marriage.

This past October, the 9th Circuit - which has jurisdiction over Guam - struck down gay marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho, calling the bans "illogical, unjust, counterproductive and unconstitutional" in a mandate that effectively legalized same-sex marriage circuitwide.

Aguero and Pangelinan - who have been together for nine years - tried to apply for a marriage license at Guam's vital statistics office this past week. An employee there refused the request, citing Guam's law defining marriage as between opposite-sex couples, the complaint states.

In a statement on Monday, the couple's attorney William Pesch of Guam Family Law Office in Hagatna criticized Guam Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson for deciding to wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue later this year instead of advising the vital statistics office to process the marriage license application.

"The attorney general's decision to defer any action and instead wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the matter undermines the integrity of her high office and violates her oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution," Pesch said.

"Plaintiffs are residents of Guam who experience the same joys and shoulder the same challenges of family life as their heterosexual neighbors, co-workers and other community members who freely may marry," the couple says in their complaint. "They are productive, contributing citizens who support their families and nurture their children, but must do so without the same dignity and respect afforded by the territory to other families through access to the universally celebrated status of marriage.

"The government of Guam's exclusion of plaintiffs from marriage subjects plaintiffs to legal vulnerability and related stress, while depriving them and their children of equal dignity and security," the couple continues. "The government sends a purposeful message that the territory views lesbians and gay men and their children as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, and support that different-sex spouses and their family enjoy."

Besides Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands is the only other territory within the 9th Circuit that doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, which Pesch attributes to the fact that nobody had ever challenged than bans' constitutionality before today.

The attorney added that he hopes Calvo and Barrett-Anderson refuse to defend Guam's marriage law.

Aguero and Pangelinan seek declaratory and injunctive relief for deprivation of equal protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender and due process, and a revocation of Guam's ban on same-sex marriage.

They are also represented by Mitchell Thompson and R. Todd Thompson of the firm Thompson, Gutierrez & Alcantara in Hagatna, Guam.

Last week, Barrett-Anderson said the registrar followed Guam law but that "Guam will abide" by whatever decision the U.S. Supreme Court makes in the most recent same-sex marriage case.

That case will be heard April 28, and a decision is expected in June.

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