Attorney Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, yesterday told local lawmakers there's more to be done in America to achieve equal rights for same-sex couples.
Freedom to Marry is an organization that leads a campaign to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
Wolfson -- who was co-counsel in the historic case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale -- is working across the country to educate the public about why marriage matters to same-sex couples and their families, according to the organization's website.
Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz hosted the presentation.
"We all have a lot of work to do to get our country where it needs to be," Wolfson said during a presentation at the Legislature's public hearing room. "America made a promise that everyone is equal."
Wolfson said he is optimistic things will change, as 40 percent of Americans now live in jurisdictions that provide some measure of respect to same-sex couples under the law. He said that 10 years ago, the number was almost zero.
"Americans over the past decade have been in some serious discussions," Wolfson said.
Wolfson added those discussions also need to happen in Guam.
"Here on Guam, ... our work is not yet finished. As people go on this journey of thinking about real families and hardship and fairness, more and more people are moving in the same direction," Wolfson said.
Share storiesWolfson said the way for Guam to achieve fairness for all is to have same-sex couples share their stories with others. Wolfson said when these stories are shared, others will understand people are being harmed when marriage is denied.
Cruz said he wants Guam to move toward educating people about same-sex issues. He hopes Wolfson's presentation will be a start toward making that happen.
Cruz said he thinks civil unions for same-sex couples isn't the same as marriage and is insufficient.
Cruz introduced Bill 185 in July 2009 as a measure to recognize same-sex unions legally on Guam. If passed, the bill would have given same-sex couples many of the rights and benefits afforded to married couples. It didn't get much support and the local religious community fought against the bill.
Cruz said he won't be the one to introduce similar legislation the next time around.
Cruz said his focus over the next year is community education, by getting more scholars like Wolfson to talk about the issues and get same-sex couples to tell their stories.
Sen.-elect Aline Yamashita, a supporter of same-sex unions, yesterday said she would be open to introducing bills to provide same-sex couples with equal rights.
"It's to address any issue for the equality and equity throughout the island," Yamashita said. "I believe every person is deserving of respect and diversity. And I stand for that."
Having been with her partner for about 25 years, Dr. Ellen Bez, of Tamuning said she believes the presentation will create some movement on island.
"It gives you the strength to keep putting forth our message," Bez said. "These talks will help get the message across. We will move forward."