Hagatna - The Pacific US territory of Guam announced on Wednesday it was lifting a ban on same-sex marriages rather than defend a lawsuit brought by a gay couple who had their marriage licence application rejected.
In a major policy reversal, Guam attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson said she had ordered officials to immediately begin processing marriage licence applications from same-sex couples.
"Today I have issued a legal memorandum... advising the department to immediately begin accepting and processing applications for marriage licences from persons of the same gender," she said in a statement.
Barrett-Anderson said the decision came in the wake of a lawsuit filed last week by Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero, two 28-year-olds in a long-term relationship who wanted to be married.
They filed a lawsuit this week after officials said they could not issue a marriage licence because Guam's marriage statute said matrimony could take place only "between a man and a woman".
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Barrett-Anderson, who last week argued that officials were simply upholding the law, said a review had found "Guam's statute prohibiting same gender marriages [is] unenforceable".
A lawyer for Pangelinan and Aguero, R Todd Thompson, said his clients were delighted with the decision.
"It's a great moral victory," he told AFP. "She has said exactly what we said in our briefs, that the law is settled and as a legal matter there is no dispute here."
However, he was concerned at unconfirmed reports that Guam Governor Eddie Calvo would continue to block same-sex marriage, despite Barrett-Anderson's revised position.
"If this is true then it means our lawsuit will continue," he said. "It will not be over until our clients are married."