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Guam governor refuses to allow marriage licenses for same-sex couples

Guam governor refuses to allow marriage licenses for same-sex couples
Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo (R-Guam)
Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo (R-Guam)

HAGATNA, Guam — The nation’s largest gay rights organization and Guam’s biggest newspaper are blasting the territory’s governor for not allowing marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.

Guam’s attorney general on Wednesday said government officials should begin issuing licenses after a lesbian couple filed a federal lawsuit because they were denied a marriage application. But state officials, backed by the governor, refused the attorney general’s directive because it wasn’t a binding legal opinion. Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo said lawmakers or the public could change the law to allow same-sex marriage, if that was their will.

James Perez Servino, an associate director of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement on the group’s website saying Calvo is “standing in the way of marriage equality.” He encouraged people to send messages to the governor’s office expressing their support for same-sex marriage.

“Gov. Eddie Calvo needs to retake civics after he passed the buck on the attorney general’s legal memorandum on gay marriage to lawmakers and voters,” an editorial in Friday’s Pacific Daily News says. “Calvo could have made the courageous decision to end discrimination against homosexuals in Guam.”

“The governor’s duty is to enforce our laws, not interpret them,” the editorial says.

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Calvo on Friday released a statement asking for more time to make a decision on a “question of this complexity and magnitude.”

The U.S. District Court of Guam falls under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has ruled in favor of gay marriage. Calvo noted that the court has stayed decisions on pending lawsuits for states grappling with the fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

“If the decision were so obvious on its face, the Supreme Court would have made the decision for the entire nation already. And the 9th Circuit would not have stayed its decision in the Alaska or Montana cases,” the governor said.

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Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson on Tuesday directed officials to immediately begin processing same-sex marriage applications, which would have made Guam the first U.S. territory to recognize same-sex marriage. Loretta M. Pangelinan and Kathleen M. Aguero, both 28, said they are challenging “the discriminatory denial of their freedom to marry in the Territory of Guam.”

The Department of Public Health and Social Services should treat “all same gender marriage applicants with dignity and equality under the Constitution,” the attorney general said.

Leo Casil, the acting director of Guam’s Department of Public Health and Social Services, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday that Territorial Registrar Carolyn Garrido, who issues marriage licenses and is named in the couple’s lawsuit, “knows when and when not to issue.”

He added that Garrido, who has been at the office for about 20 years, took out the local statute and showed the couple the law prior to denying their application for a marriage license.

In a radio interview Thursday with Newstalk K57 in Guam, Barrett-Anderson said that she cannot represent Calvo in the case because her position on the matter is completely different than his, though she said she respects his right to express his position.

“I’m not upset with Governor Calvo’s position. I saw him struggle when we spoke. I saw him struggle as a governor, as a lawmaker and as a man,” Barrett-Anderson said. “These are not easy issues.”

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Calvo has said the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments on gay marriage. He suggested Guam lawmakers could pass a law allowing gay marriage, or voters could do so in a referendum, “if it is the will of the people of Guam to make same-sex marriage legal.”

Sen. Tina Muna Barnes, D-Mangilao, wrote in a statement Thursday that Guam has a law that prohibits discrimination based on gender.

“This is the law that exists today,” she said. “Denying a couple a marriage license because they are both one gender to me means that one or both of them is being denied equal rights because of their gender.”

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