HAGATNA, Guam -- Guam's attorney general on Wednesday directed officials to immediately begin processing same-sex-marriage applications, putting the island on course to be the first U.S. territory to allow gay marriage.
Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson's instructions came two days after a lesbian couple filed a legal challenge to the territory's marriage laws after they were barred from submitting an application for a license to wed.
But Leo Casil, the acting director of the Department of Public Health and Social Services, told the Pacific Daily News that officials won't accept applications "until further notice."
Casil said he just received a letter from Barrett-Anderson, not a legal opinion.
Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo's office in a statement said, "While this current legal issue is being reviewed, if it is the will of the people of Guam to make same-sex marriage legal on Guam, then the Guam Legislature, the people of Guam's representatives, can take action to change the law, or a referendum can be held giving the people of Guam a direct voice in this issue."
Barrett-Anderson cited a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision as the basis for her directive. The appeals court in October found state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.
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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."
Loretta M. Pangelinan and Kathleen M. Aguero, who challenged the territory's marriage laws with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Guam on Monday, applied for a license to marry in Guam last week.
Both 28 years old, they have been in a relationship for more than nine years. They are registered foster parents.
Guam would be 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.