Guam Couple Seek to Overturn Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Image: Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero
Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero outside U.S. District Court in Hagatna, Guam, on Saturday.Grace Garces Bordallo / AP

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/ Source: NBC News
By Alex Johnson

A lesbian couple sued the U.S. island of Guam on Monday, five days after they were denied a wedding license, in just the second legal challenge to restrictions on same-sex marriage in the U.S. territories.

Kathleen Aguero and Loretta Pangelinan, both 28, said in a 25-page suit (PDF) filed in U.S. District Court for Guam in Hagatna that while they could have chosen to fly to a mainland state that recognizes same-sex marriage, they "wish to marry on Guam so that all their friends and family may attend and participate in their joyous occasion."

The suit, which names Gov. Eddie Calvo and territorial Registrar Carolyn Garrido as defendants, says Aguero and Pangelinan sought a wedding license last Wednesday in the village of Mangilao but officials refused to accept the application — even though Guam is part of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

The suit says the clerk's office gave Aguero and Pangelinan two documents — a 2009 opinion from the Guam attorney general's office and a copy of the Guam Code, both specifying that "marriage means the legal union of persons of the opposite sex."

"We're seeking marriage equality for all," R. Todd Thompson, the women's attorney, told NBC station KUAM of Hagatna. "We are asking the judge to obey the 9th Circuit precedent, which says that sex is not an appropriate distinction to make when filing for a marriage license."

In a statement, Calvo's office said: "Guam law, as currently written, prescribes marriage as between a man and a woman. Given this information, unless the law is changed by the Legislature, or unless a judicial edict is issued declaring the Guam law to be inorganic or unconstitutional, he believes the Department of Public Health should continue to enforce the law as written."

Only one other case has been filed addressing the legality of same-sex marriage in the U.S. territories, whose residents are U.S. citizens but who don't have all the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections.

Puerto Rico's justice secretary said last month that he would ask a federal appeals court to overturn the island's ban on same-sex marriage as "legally indefensible" in a suit filed by two Puerto Rico women who were legally married in Massachusetts but whose wedding wasn't recognized on the island.



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Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero outside U.S. District Court in Hagatna, Guam, on Saturday.Grace Garces Bordallo / AP