Community Weighs In On Guam Same-Sex Marriage Question

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Couples in limbo awaiting governor’s direction

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 17, 2015) – Crystal Halmi, 31, proposed to Claudia Sanchez, her girlfriend of nearly seven years, last December.

The Radio Barrigada residents were considering marrying in Hawaii this year, but had pushed back the date to next April because of the budgeting and planning involved in an off-island wedding.

Recent developments on the same-sex marriage issue, though, have gotten Halmi excited.

"I want to do it next month," she said. "If it gets approved soon, I want to charter a boat."

Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson on Wednesday advised the Department of Public Health and Social Services to begin processing same-sex marriage applications immediately.

The memo was sent following a lawsuit by Kathleen M. Aguero and Loretta M. Pangelinan, two women who are challenging Guam's same-sex marriage ban in federal court.

Public Health, in response to Barrett-Anderson's memo, said it won't process applications "until further notice" and the governor's office has said it's reviewing the attorney general's decision.

[PIR editor’s note: PDN reported that ‘In the spring of 1994, Guam lawmakers passed a measure that included language explicitly defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. ... The measure, which laid out the mission and procedures for the island's health department, mandates Public Health officials who issue marriage licenses to only do so for heterosexual couples.’ Various Senators also answered questions about the issue.]

Halmi's fiancee, 29, is just as excited, and hopeful that the law will be changed to allow same-sex marriages in Guam.

"I never thought in my lifetime something like this will happen on our island," Sanchez said.

"I've fallen crazy in love with a woman that had proposed to me last Christmas, and her family was a part of the proposal," she said. "(It) turned out to be pretty emotional day for me, I was in tears.

"We have a beautiful 11-year-old daughter (and) she is the only approval we need to accept us marrying one another.

"As for all those against us, (their) opinions are welcome. ... Never mind what others think. We deserve love and happiness too."

Jennise Crisostomo, 19, said she and Shaelene Guerrero said they too are excited about the possibility of the law changing.

Crisostomo said she and Guerrero have been together for the past two years and that they were excited to see Aguero and Pangelinan make the first step toward overturning the local ban.

One day, she said, she would like to have the opportunity to marry Guerrero.

She said those opposed to same-sex marriage shouldn't stand in their way of accomplishing that dream.

She added that they have other gay friends who, like them, want to get married here rather than off-island.

"They want to get married in Guam, because Guam is a beautiful place to get married," she said.

And until the day comes that she and Guerrero can get married, she'll continue protesting and demanding her rights.

"No matter what people say, you'll still see us holding hands and being happy," she said.

Davina R.C. Agustin of Inarajan, who just this week celebrated 11 years with Josephine Aquiningoc, wrote that she too was proud of Aguero and Pangelinan's action.

She added that same-sex partners should have the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, particularly when they have children.

Off-island too

Guamanians from off-island also celebrated the news, such as James Perez Servino, who currently lives in Washington, D.C.

"As a Chamorro, I eagerly await the governor's response to the sound legal directive of the attorney general that would extend marriage equality to loving, committed same-sex couples," wrote Servino in a letter to the Pacific Daily News.

Servino likened the struggle for marriage equality to Guam's own struggle for political recognition.

"We Guamanians can show that we know what equal protection should be and what denial of basic rights looks like, we've felt and experienced it as Americans and we'll stand up for equality because it's right," he said. "We are tired of not being treated as equal citizens and our people and values should stand for equal justice under the law wherever possible."

"Let's stand on the right side of history, before it's too late," he added.


However, not everybody is looking forward to the future of same-sex marriages in Guam.

Resident Benny Crawford said that while he isn't challenging the attorney general's determination on the law, he's worried about what he sees are "consequences" for allowing same-sex marriage.

Those consequences, he said, include a community that is more accepting of homosexuality.

He added that he feels similarly about relaxed attitudes toward alcoholism and drug use, saying communities are weakened by accepting them as normal.

He said the larger problem is allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

"If you're an environment where there's a homosexual, gay couple or alcoholic family or a family that smokes cigarettes, your children tend to grow up mimicking what they see," he said. "That's pretty much what bothers me."

Crawford cited the Bible as his standard for that reasoning.

A study published in 2014 by a team of researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia, however, found that children of same-sex couples scored higher in areas of behavior, health and family cohesion than children in the general population, according to The Washington Post.

Attorney weighs in

Yesterday, Attorney Todd Thompson, who represents Aguero and Pangelinan, said the governor and the Office of Vital Statistics "have no legitimate justification to continue to deny or delay justice to plaintiff," in a court filing.

According to documents filed yesterday in the District Court of Guam, Thompson argued that the governor and Public Health are ignoring precedence established by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Guam.

Last year, that court ruled same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional in Latta v. Otter.

"It is remarkable that the (governor's) statement failed to recognize Latta as controlling authority," Thompson wrote, referring to the governor's statement.

Thompson also rebutted Adelup's suggestion that the question of same-sex marriage was a political question, rather than a legal one.

In its statement, the governor's office said that if the people of Guam wish to legalize same-sex marriage in Guam, "then the Guam Legislature ... can take action to change the law, or a referendum can be held giving the people of Guam a direct voice in this issue."

Thompson responded in his court filing that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that issues of civil rights are not political questions.

"It ceased being a political question the day two courageous young women went down to Mangilao to obtain a marriage license and were denied it," he wrote. "It unquestionably became a judicial question the day the same two women came to this honorable court to file suit to vindicate their constitutional right to marry."

Thompson renewed a request for a speedy ruling, noting that in other court cases involving same-sex marriage bans, courts granted relief within a month of appellate decisions.

"Every conceivable 'justification' for same-sex marriage bans has been considered and rejected by the 9th Circuit in Latta," wrote Thompson. "Thus, it would be a colossal waste of judicial resources to prolong this case."

Acting Public Health director Leo Casil said Wednesday that a decision on how to respond to the lawsuit will be made by Friday.

Pacific Daily News Audience Analyst Masako Watanabe contributed to this report.

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