Guam's attorney general today directed the U.S. territory's Department of Public Health and Social Services to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately, but territorial officials are not going along quite yet.
"The Department is advised to treat all same gender marriage applicants with dignity and equality under the Constitution of our nation, and the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals," said a legal memorandum from Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson to Leo Casil, the health department's acting director, Guam's Pacific Daily News reports. The memo comes on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed Monday by a lesbian couple who were denied a marriage license.
Casil, however, said he would not issue licenses to same-sex couples yet and would await an opinion from Gov. Eddie Calvo. Early this evening in Guam local time, Calvo said any change in marriage policy should be put to a vote, either by legislators or citizens.
"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, or a referendum can be held giving the people of Guam a direct voice in this issue," read a joint statement from Calvo and Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, according to the Daily News.
Barrett-Anderson contended that the Ninth Circuit's October ruling striking down marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada meant that Guam could not enforce its ban. Guam, an island in the Pacific Ocean, is part of the Ninth Circuit, where every state now has marriage equality. Another Pacific territory, the Northern Mariana Islands, is in the circuit, but the issue has not come up there.
A lawyer representing Kathleen M. Aguero and Loretta M. Pangelinan, the women who were denied a marriage license last week, said their lawsuit will proceed despite the attorney general's opinion. "Obviously I'm encouraged by what I've heard, but I'm cautious [whether the health department] will actually comply with the attorney general's direction," attorney Todd Thompson told the Daily News.