A federal judge has struck down Guam’s same-sex marriage ban, making it the first U.S. territory to officially recognize gay marriage.
After a hearing on Friday morning, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood issued the decision, which will go into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday, when same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses.
Justice Gatewood ruled that the laws defining marriage as couples composed of a man and a woman were unconstitutional, citing a previous decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Guam.
The lesbian couple Loretta M. Pangelinan and Kathleen M. Aguero filed the case in April after the 28-year-old women were denied a marriage license by Public Health and Social Services.
The courtroom was filled with gay marriage supporters, who burst into applause when the judge announced her decision. The two women were greeted by friends, family, and supporters who lined the gallery to congratulate them.
The couple’s attorney, Todd Thompson, said:
We are happy to say that today the last jurisdiction in the 9th Circuit where this had been an issue has now been resolved and Guam can now hold its head high and say that we weren’t part of that last 16, 13 states that are left that are refusing to recognize same-sex marriage. We are very proud today. We are very proud of our judge [and] very proud to be Guamanians.
Attorneys representing Guam Governor Eddie Calvo had said in a May 18 court document that “should a court strike current Guam law, they would respect and follow such a decision.” On Friday, the Governor’s attorney said Calvo had been waiting for a ruling on the law and added that Calvo planned to follow the decision without contesting it.
Calvo had previously defended the island’s traditional marriage law on democratic grounds, saying that the statute is “being challenged by federal judges that were nominated by a U.S. president and confirmed by a U.S Senate, none of whom were elected through a process that included the people of Guam.”
Guam residents are U.S. citizens, but they are not permitted to vote in presidential elections. The territory elects a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, but the delegate does not vote on legislation. Guam has no representation in the Senate.
Immediately after the court’s decision, Sen. Nerissa Underwood introduced a bill to amend Guam’s marriage law. She said she introduced the Guam Marriage Equality Act of 2015 (Bill 119-33) to adapt current law to the federal court ruling.
“I am proud to see Guam, as a U.S. jurisdiction, exercise its unique ability to decide and take action on this very important legal issue on equal treatment,” Underwood said in a press release.
“I want to thank the plaintiffs in this case, Loretta M. Pangelinan and Kathleen M. Aguero for their courage in standing up in their belief that they should be allowed to marry on Guam,” Underwood said.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on whether the U.S. Constitution protects gay marriage as a constitutional right. Currently, same-sex couples can marry in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and now, Guam.
People on both sides of the aisle have continued making their arguments for or against homosexual marriage. Christian evangelist Franklin Graham recently suggested that Americans look north to see the negative consequences of legalized gay marriage. “Canada began federally mandating same-sex marriage in 2005,” Graham said.
“What’s happened since then? One result has been that freedom of speech, press, and religion have suffered greatly. If you say or write anything questioning same-sex marriage you could face discipline, termination of employment, or prosecution by the government,” he said.
“Will the next step be to ban us from speaking God’s truth from His Word about this issue?” he asked.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.