Chief judge denies motion to hold marriage equality case - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Chief judge denies motion to hold marriage equality case

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A case filed in the District Court will move forward despite a motion to place it on hold. An order was issued after Special Assistant Attorney General Mike Phillips filed additional reasons as to why the legal proceedings should be held in abeyance.

Special Assistant Attorney General Mike Phillips has filed his response on behalf of the governor and Public Health in the ongoing case regarding marriage equality on Guam. In his response motion to the plaintiff's objection to put a hold on the marriage equality case filed in the District Court, Phillips says his motion to put a pause on the case is not a disingenuous delay tactic.

Phillips represents Governor Eddie Baza Calvo and Public Health registrar Carolyn Garrido. The two are named defendants in a case filed by same-sex couple Kathleen Aguero and Loretta Pangelinan. The couple was denied the opportunity to file for a marriage license in early April. They subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging their civil rights are being violated.

The couple and their attorneys argue Guam should follow an October ruling by the 9th Circuit Court in Latta v. Otter which ruled that state bans on same sex marriages are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue that because Guam falls under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, then this would mean that same-sex couples should be allowed to wed in Guam.

Phillips is asking the court to place the legal proceedings on hold until a decision is rendered in the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected in two months. Justices are currently deliberating on whether the Constitution gives same sex couples the right to marry.

Phillips writes that Governor Calvo and Garrido appreciate the emotion and sensitivity of this case and the ramifications of court action or inaction across our island. Public interest cases such as this require parties and counsel to proceed with great caution and sensitivity in order to avoid unnecessary polarization of our small community.

Additionally, Phillips writes, "Clearly it's neither irrational nor a disingenuous delay tactic to ask this court to stay these proceedings considering the pending supreme court ruling. The governor is faced with assertions the plaintiffs have chosen to direct against the governor expecting immediate and complete agreement. The Attorney General of Guam has not issued a legal opinion, the Guam Legislature has not amended applicable Guam law and no court has suspended or found the challenged statute to be in violation of the Organic Act of Guam."

We should add though the AG has issued a legal memo which does allow Public Health to move forward with issuing licenses to same gender couples, but public health is not receiving applications pending guidance from Adelup. Phillips in his response motions does request that if his motion to hold the case in abeyance is not granted that instead they be granted an extension until May 18 to formulate further responses to the plaintiffs' proceedings.

District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood denied the motion to hold the case in abeyance. She did however grant Phillips' request to file their responses to the ongoing case to May 18 at 3pm. The plaintiffs subsequently must file their response by the 22nd. A hearing on the case has been scheduled for June 5.     


Following is a statement from Governor Calvo:


As governor it is my duty to execute the laws of the United States, specifically those that are applicable to Guam, and uphold the local laws that reflect our will as a society. The government and I are being sued because those two laws appear to be in conflict.


We've submitted our responses to the lawsuit filed with the District Court of Guam on allowing same-sex marriage. We're asking for time to allow the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the nation, to come to a decision. The response reflects my duties as governor to uphold the laws of our island community, which would change if the U.S. Supreme Court decides that marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to couples of the same sex.


This response is consistent with the call of some local senators, including ardent supporters of same-sex marriage, to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue first. It is also consistent with other federal courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who have recognized that a Supreme Court decision is imminent and have stayed all proceedings until the end of June.


I know there are many people who are passionate about this issue. I have received hundreds of letters, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from those who support same-sex marriage and those who support the traditional definition of marriage. But as I have said before, as important as is the question of individual rights, so too is the preservation of states rights.


Some people have lost sight of the fact that the only ‘decision' in the local debate that reflects the will or the participation of the Guamanian people as a whole is the local law that defines marriage in the traditional sense. Today, that law 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.


I ask, with all this national attention on individual rights being focused on Guam by special interest groups and civil rights advocates, why have we not earlier heard the voices of these groups to stir up a national debate about the individual rights of all the people of Guam, who are being denied one of the most fundamental of all civil rights of all – the right to vote for the government that governs us.


Nonetheless, just as we are asking the District Court to allow us the opportunity to be guided by the Supreme Court's decision, I encourage everyone to do the same and give the Justices time to weigh this question that could, as Chief Justice Roberts mentioned during the arguments last week, ‘redefine the institution' of marriage, which spans a millennium.


The Supreme Court is expected to come to a decision by next month. I've already told my administration to prepare for either eventuality:


1.    If the states' right to define marriage is upheld, I don't believe that will foreclose the issue. Instead, I believe it will open up the opportunity for further conversation so that the true will of the people can be reflected in our laws. And as ardent a defender as I have been for our local law as currently written, I will be as ardent in defending any new law, if that is the will of the people.


2.    If it is decided that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right and we are bound by the Ninth Circuit's decision, then local statute, rules and regulations will need to be amended and adjusted accordingly, and I will execute those new laws. I would also hope that we do not miss the opportunity to open up a new conversation about the right of the people of Guam to participate in the overall U.S. democratic process so that we can participate in electing the national leaders who will make the decisions that will govern our lives.  Maybe the civil rights advocates who have led the charge to change Guam's law will now see the need to focus national attention on this issue.

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