Guam on Wednesday became the first U.S. territory to allow gay marriage after its attorney general directed officials to immediately begin processing same-sex marriage applications, according to a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Atty. Gen. Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson's instructions came two days after a lesbian couple, Kathleen Aguero and Loretta Pangelinan, filed a legal challenge to the territory's marriage laws after being barred from submitting an application for a marriage license.
"The right to marry the person of one's choice and to direct the course of one's life in this intimate realm without undue government interference is one of the fundamental liberty interests protected for all by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to United States Constitution," the couple's lawsuit asserts. "This exclusion from marriage and relegation to second-class status inflicts serious and irreparable harms upon [the] plaintiffs and other same-sex couples and their children."
Barrett-Anderson cited a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision as the basis for her directive. The appeals court in October found that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.
"The ultimate decision on whether Guam's statute is constitutional will be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in June," according to a news release from Barrett-Anderson's office. "The Supreme Court's decision, however, to lift the stay in the [U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals] decision permits individuals in all nine states [covered by the circuit court] and Guam to the enjoyment of their right to marry regardless of gender."
Barrett-Anderson said the Department of Public Health and Social Services should treat “all same-gender marriage applicants with dignity and equality under the Constitution.”
Guam is the first of five U.S. Pacific and Caribbean territories to allow gay marriage.
A lawsuit challenging Puerto Rico's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is pending before a federal appeals court in Boston. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday it would await the Supreme Court's decision on the issue before scheduling oral arguments in the Puerto Rico case.
Puerto Rico's Justice Department previously has defended the law in court, but Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda said last month that the department would no longer do so.
The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.