Same-sex marriage in Guam
|Legal status of same-sex unions|
* Not yet in effect
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.
Guam was the first overseas territory of the United States to recognize same-sex marriage. On August 27, 2015, the Marriage Equality Act passed by the Guam Legislature came into effect, officially incorporating the federal court ruling into statutory law.
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 contained a prohibition on marriage "between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews", arguably showed 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:
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.
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".
2015 equality legislation
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, which created legal equality in civil marriage. The bill passed by a margin of 13-2 in Guam's unicameral legislature. It took effect on August 27, 2015.
The law amended the definition of marriage under Guam law to the following:
Marriage means the legal union between two persons without regard to gender.
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" 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.
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. The bill was heavily condemned by the Catholic Church. The bill did not get sufficient votes to make it to the session floor.
Due to opposition to the bill within the religious community, Bill 185 and Bill 212 were introduced by proponents of same-sex unions should the civil union bill fail to pass. The Bill 212 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.
Licensing same-sex marriage
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. 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." 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.
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. 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. 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.
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”.
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. 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.
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.
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- Same-sex civil unions proposed
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