Same-sex marriage in Guam

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Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States, began licensing and recognizing same-sex marriages on June 9, 2015, following a ruling of the District Court of Guam on June 5, 2015, that held the territory's prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[1][2]

Guam was the first overseas territory of the United States to recognize same-sex marriage.

Marriage statutes[edit]

The Guam Organic Act of 1950, an Act of the United States Congress, does not address the question of marriage. Since August 2015, Guam's marriage statutes have recognised the marriages of same-sex couples. Previously a 1994 law specifying the responsibilities of the Guam department of Public Health defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

That law, which prohibition on marriage "between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews", arguably shows Guam anticipated only recognising only opposite-sex marriages. The law stipulated that parties "must declare in the presence of the person solemnizing the marriage that they take each other as husband and wife." With respect to marriages from other jurisdictions, the statues stated:[3]

All marriages contracted outside of the territory of Guam, which would be valid by the laws of the country in which the same were contracted, are valid in the territory of Guam.

The 1994 law, which set standards and procedures for the Guam Department of Public Health, included this definition:[4][5]

Marriage means the legal union of persons of opposite sex. The legality of the union may be established by civil or religious regulations, as recognized by the laws of Guam.

Federal courts in Guam are subject to the precedents set in 2014 by the decisions of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Latta v. Otter and Sevcik v. Sandoval, which found Idaho's and Nevada's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples unconstitutional. The District Court of Guam noted this precedent in its June 2015 ruling permanently enjoining Guam officials from enforcing the 1994 law "or any other laws or regulations to the extent they prohibit otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marrying in Guam".[6]

2015 equality legislation[edit]

Following the District Court of Guam's June 2015 ruling permanently enjoining Guam officials from enforcing the 1994 law banning same-sex marriage and the U.S Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Guam legislators in August 2015 passed Bill No. 119-33, an act provide equal protection for all families in Guam by creating equality in civil marriage. The bill passed by a margin of 13-2 in Guam's unicameral legislature.[7][8] It took effect on August 27, 2015.[9]

The bill amends the definition of marriage under Guam law to the following:[10]

Marriage means the legal union between two persons without regard to gender.

Proposed legislation[edit]

After Vermont enacted same-sex marriage legislation, the 27th Guam Youth Congress, an advisory body which submits legislation to committees of the Legislature of Guam, forwarded a bill to legalize civil unions to the legislature, with the bill being supported by Speaker Derick Baza Hills.

A similar measure failed in the 25th Guam Youth Congress by just one vote. Citing recent rulings in the courts such as the unanimous decision overturning the ban on same-sex marriage in Iowa, Hills later commented that the courts would be essential to make sure we "allow for equal rights"[11] he stated in a press release. While same-sex marriage is currently not being considered in Guam, Hills made sure to point out that "We do have advocates in the Legislature [who support same-sex civil unions] ... I do feel and know that there are senators comfortable supporting this legislation," Hills said. Hills called on the Legislature of Guam to introduce legislation to create such unions, though the extent of rights to be granted is unknown.[11]

On June 3, 2009, Vice-Speaker BJ Cruz introduced Bill No. 138, which would establish same-sex civil unions containing all the rights and benefits of civil marriage in Guam.[12] The bill was heavily condemned by the Catholic Church.[13] The bill did not get sufficient votes to make it to the session floor.[14]

Due to opposition to the bill within the religious community, Bill 212 was introduced by proponents of same-sex unions should the civil union bill fail to pass. The bill mirrors the bill passed in Hawaii that provided significantly limited rights. The bill is known as a "Designated Beneficiary Agreement," and unlike the civil union bill, would be open for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.[15]

Licensing same-sex marriage[edit]

On April 8, 2015, a lesbian couple were refused a marriage license at the Department of Public Health and Social Services. The next day the editorial board of the Guam Pacific Daily News endorsed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Guam.[16] Attorney-General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson endorsed the Department's refusal, but when later asked if Guam law violated the Fourteenth Amendment said: "Good question. I can't comment."[17] The couple filed a lawsuit challenging the territory's refusal to grant then a marriage license, Aguero v. Calvo, in the District Court of Guam on April 13.[18]

On April 15, 2015, Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson ordered Guam officials to begin licensing same-sex marriages, which would have made Guam the first U.S. territory to legalize same-sex marriage. Barrett-Anderson issued a directive to the Department of Public Health and Social Services to immediately process applications from same-sex couples for marriage licenses, instructing that same-sex applicants be treated "with dignity and equality under the Constitution". She cited the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Latta v. Otter, which is controlling precedent in federal courts in Guam.[19] However, Governor Eddie Calvo responded the next day by questioning the legal basis for Barrett-Anderson's memorandum. He suggested same-sex marriage licensing should wait until the Supreme Court ruled on a case before it.[20] Governor Calvo said the question of marriage should be addressed by the Legislature or voters of Guam, and the acting head of the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services stated that his office would not accept applications from same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses for the time being.

On May 8, Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Chief Judge of Guam District Court, denied the defendants' request to delay proceedings pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court in related cases. Noting they are represented by a Special Assistant Attorney General appointed on May 1, he set a briefing schedule and scheduled a hearing for June 5.[21]

On June 5, Judge Tydingco-Gatewood issued a ruling which struck down Guam's statutory ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling was issued immediately after the court hearing proceedings and went into effect on 8am Tuesday June 9. Same-sex marriages became performable and recognised in the U.S. territory from that date. Attorneys representing the government of Guam said in a May 18 court filing that “should a court strike current Guam law, they would respect and follow such a decision”.[22]

On June 9, 2015, Loretta M. Pangelinan, 28, and Kathleen M. Aguero, 29, were the first of several same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in the territory's capital, Hagåtña.[23] The first couple to marry was Deasia Johnson of Killeen, Texas and Nikki Dismuke of New Orleans, who married each other in a brief ceremony in the office of Public Health Director James Gillan on the morning on June 9, 2015, the day the island territory became the United States' first overseas territory to recognize same-sex marriage.[24]

Public opinion[edit]

In a 2009 poll conducted by Pacific Daily News, 26% of Guamanians supported same-sex marriage, 27% supported same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions, and 29% of responders said that there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Guam.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Guam becomes first US territory to recognise same-sex marriage". The Guardian. June 5, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Gay couples begin applying to marry in Guam". The Guardian. June 9, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Chapter 3. The Contract of Marriage" (PDF). Guam Code Annotated. Compiler of Laws, Supreme Court of Guam. Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ Raymundo, Shawn (April 17, 2015). "1994 law central to marriage debate". Guam Pacific Daily News. Retrieved April 16, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Chapter 3. Public Health and Social Services" (PDF). Guam Code Annotated. Compiler of Laws, Supreme Court of Guam. Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Summary Judgement of the District Court of Guam in the matter of Aguero v. Calvo" (PDF). District Court of Guam. 8 June 2015. 
  7. ^ "Senators Vote During Session". K.U.A.M News. 12 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "Marriage Equality and Employment Nondiscrimination Acts Pass". Pacific News Centre. 12 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Guam's marriage equality legislation lapses into law
  10. ^ "Guam Marriage Equality Act of 2015" (PDF). Guam Legislature. August 12, 2015. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Lee, Yvonne S. (April 10, 2009). "Youth congress pass bill to legalize same sex civil unions". Pacific Daily News. Retrieved April 23, 2009. [dead link]
  12. ^ Same-sex civil unions proposed
  13. ^ "Archbishop Apuron Responds To Senator Cruz's Same Sex Civil Union Bill". 
  14. ^ Aguon, Mindy (February 24, 2011). "Gay community hopeful for Guam civil unions". Kuam News. Retrieved August 27, 2013. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Rectify: Legalizing same-sex marriage is about justice and equality". Guam Pacific Daily News. April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Guam AG says she'll answer questions on same-sex marriage at 'a later time'". Guam Pacific Daily News. April 10, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Complaint". Scribd,com. District Court of Guam. Retrieved April 13, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Guam Attorney General Orders Gay Marriage to Move Forward". New York Times. Associated Press. April 15, 2015. Retrieved April 16, 2015. 
  20. ^ Salas Matanane, Sabrina (April 17, 2015). "Governor Calvo needs more time on same-sex marriage". KUAM. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  21. ^ Daly, Kyle (May 8, 2015). "Judge grants extension in Guam gay marriage case, but denies stay". Guam Pacific Daily News. Retrieved May 9, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Guam becomes first US territory to recognize same-sex marriage". The Guardian. June 5, 2015. 
  23. ^ Grace Garces Bordallo (9 June 2015). "Gay couples in Guam start applying for marriage licenses". Washington Post. 
  24. ^ Grace Garces Bordallo (9 June 2015). "First gay couple to marry in US territory ties knot in Guam". 
  25. ^[dead link]

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