NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — In a federal court ruling echoing decisions reached elsewhere in the U.S., Virginia on Thursday became the first state in the South to overturn a voter-approved prohibition of same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning that gay couples in Virginia still will not be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Both sides believe the case won’t be settled until the Supreme Court decides to hear it or one like it. Allen’s decision makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages. A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. But that judge did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state. Decisions similar to that of the Virginia judge have been issued in in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts. The office of newly elected Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took the unusual step of not defending the law because it believes the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In her ruling, Wright Allen agreed. “The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s Marriage Laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry. Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family,” Wright Allen wrote. The plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Theodore B. Olson, said in a statement: “Through its decision today, the court has upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded.” Wright Allen’s stay was requested by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to avoid a situation similar to what happened in Utah after that state’s ban on gay marriages was declared unconstitutional. More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in the days after the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state an emergency stay, halting the weddings and creating a cloud of uncertainty for the status of the married couples. Soon after, a federal judge also declared Oklahoma’s ban unconstitutional. That ruling also is on hold while it is appealed.
“The legal process will continue to play out in the months to come, but this decision shows that Virginia, like America, is coming to a better place in recognizing that every Virginian deserves to be treated equally and fairly,” Herring, a Democrat, said in a statement. Supporters of the state ban on same-sex marriages issued statements decrying Wright Allen’s ruling. “It appears that we have yet another example of an arrogant judge substituting her personal preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. “Our nation’s judicial system has been infected by activist judges, which threaten the stability of our nation and the rule of law.” Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, called the ruling “another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia.” “There is no right to same-sex ‘marriage’ in the United States constitution,” Brown said. “In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that states have the pre-eminent duty of defining marriage. The people of Virginia did just that in voting overwhelmingly to affirm marriage as the union of one man and woman. That decision should be respected by federal judges and we hope that the U.S. Supreme Court ends up reversing this terrible decision.” In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast. None of them is in the old Confederacy. The Virginia case centered on a gay Norfolk couple, Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who were denied a marriage license by the Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, a Chesterfield County couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley, have joined the case. The couple married in California in 2008. They have a teenage daughter and want Virginia to recognize their marriage. In her ruling, Wright Allen said the lesbian couple “suffer humiliation and discriminatory treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
A strange ribbon of energy and particles at the edge of the solar system first spotted by a NASA spacecraft appears to serve as a sort of “roadmap in the sky” for the interstellar magnetic field, scientists say. By comparing ground-based studies and in-space observations of solar system’s mysterious energy ribbon, which was first discovered by NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) in 2009, scientists are learning more details about the conditions at the solar system’s edge. The study also sheds light into the sun’s environment protects the solar system from high-energy cosmic rays. [Photos and Images from NASA’s IBEX Spacecraft] “What I always have been trying to do was to establish a clear connection between the very high-energy cosmic rays we’re seeing [from the ground] and what IBEX is seeing,” study leader Nathan Schwadron, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire, told Space.com. Previously, maps from ground-based observatories showed researchers that clusters of cosmic rays — extremely high-energy particles that originate from supernovas — are correlated with the IBEX ribbon. The ribbon is roughly perpendicular to the interstellar magnetic field while cosmic rays stream, on average, along the interstellar magnetic field. (The particles themselves are created from interactions between the solar wind and interstellar matter.) In the longer term, Schwadron said work like this will help scientists better understand more about the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. This is a region that only one mission — NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft — has reached so far, and scientists know little about what that environment is like. More
Religious liberty law firm Thomas More Society has filed a federal lawsuit in Tennessee on behalf of former Walgreens pharmacist Philip Hall, alleging Hall was unfairly fired because his faith would not permit him to sell the Plan B morning-after pill over the counter. Hall worked for the Jamestown, Tenn., location for six years prior to his August 2013 termination. His attorneys say the store permitted him to opt out of filling prescriptions for abortifacients Ella or Plan B when they were prescription drugs. Hall, a Baptist, said he couldn’t fill those prescriptions because, “they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.” That arrangement apparently changed last year when the Food and Drug Administration allowed Plan B to be sold over the counter. Hall’s attorneys say that at an employee meeting on the change, his supervisors asked him what he would do if he was asked about the drug. Believing the previous procedures applied, Hall said he would refer the sale to another cashier. As a result, he was fired. Walgreens spokesman James Graham says he cannot comment on pending litigation, but, “We can tell you that Walgreens company policy allows pharmacists and other employees to step away from completing a transaction to which they have a moral objection. Our policy also requires the employee to refer the transaction to another employee or manager on duty who will complete the customer’s request.” More
A winter storm that dumped snow, ice and forced the cancellations of thousands of flights in the Deep South Wednesday is now wreaking similar havoc along the East Coast. At least 21 deaths were blamed on the storm that created hazardous commuting conditions. In New York, a 36-year-old pregnant woman was struck by a plow and killed, the NYPD confirmed to Fox News. Authorities rushed her to a hospital in Brooklyn where staff are attending to the unborn child. In New York City, the decision was made to open schools despite messy conditions on streets. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Farina said “it’s a beautiful day out there,” during a morning news conference, according to the New York Post. But the department’s decision to keep schools open brought a sharp response from Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. “Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted,” Mulgrew said. As Southerners did a day earlier, many in Washington heeded warnings to stay off the roads where at least 11 inches of snow had fallen. Federal offices and the city’s two main airports were closed. Baltimore awoke to 15 inches of snow Thursday, and Philadelphia had nearly 9 inches, making it the fourth 6-inch snowstorm of the season — the first time that has happened in the city’s history. Harrisburg, Pa., had at least 8 inches. More
If you have been waiting for the “global economic crisis” to begin, just open up your eyes and look around. I know that most Americans tend to ignore what happens in the rest of the world because they consider it to be “irrelevant” to their daily lives, but the truth is that the massive economic problems that are currently sweeping across Europe, Asia and South America are going to be affecting all of us here in the U.S. very soon. Sadly, most of the big news organizations in this country seem to be more concerned about the fate of Justin Bieber’s wax statue in Times Square than about the horrible financial nightmare that is gripping emerging markets all over the planet. After a brief period of relative calm, we are beginning to see signs of global financial instability that are unlike anything that we have witnessed since the financial crisis of 2008. As you will see below, the problems are not just isolated to a few countries. This is truly a global phenomenon. More
MALAYSIA – Health officials announced an H7N9 avian flu infection in Malaysia today, the first case detected outside of China, along with eight other newly confirmed cases—one in Hong Kong and seven more from the mainland. The patients who are sick with H7N9 infections in Hong Kong and Malaysia had travel links to China’s Guangdong province, one of the main hotspots of disease activity in the outbreak’s second wave. Today’s new cases lift the number of H7N9 cases reported in the second wave, which began in October, to 211, compared with 136 reported during the first wave last spring. For both waves, the total is 347, according to a list of confirmed cases kept by FluTrackers. The unofficial death count remains at 72. Malaysia’s patient is a 67-year-old woman who was part of a tour group from Guangdong province, according to a report today from Bernama, Malaysia’s national news agency. The group was visiting Sabah. The woman is being treated in the intensive care unit at a private hospital in Kota Kinabalu. The country’s health minister, Datuk Seri Dr. S. Subramaniam said it was the first H7N9 case reported in the country and that health officials are taking steps to limit contact with the patient. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today issued a statement on the Malaysian H7N9 case, which said the agency has been expecting the detection of H7N9 cases exported from China, including the scenario of an infected traveler. It said the illness in a traveler to Malaysia doesn’t change its risk assessment for the H7N9 virus. The CDC said the most important element in gauging the public health threat is transmissibility, and so far there is no evidence of sustained, ongoing person-to-person spread of H7N9. It emphasized, however, that the case underscores how important international surveillance is for H7N9 and other viruses that have pandemic potential.
Human infections in China linked to poultry exposure are likely to continue, the CDC said, and the virus could spread to neighboring countries, where it could infect people who are exposed to poultry. The most worrisome development would be if the virus gained the ability to spread easily among people, a possibility that the CDC said it and other international health partners are closely monitoring. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said it has detected an H7N9 infection in a 65-year-old resident who started having symptoms while visiting the city of Kaiping in Guangdong province. The case is the fifth H7N9 infection detected so far in Hong Kong, and all have had travel links to China’s mainland. During the patient’s stay in Kaiping between Jan 24 and Feb 9, his family bought a slaughtered chicken in the village on Jan 29. Upon his return to Hong Kong on Feb 9 he saw a doctor, and yesterday the man was hospitalized and is now in critical condition in an isolation unit, according to a CHP statement. Seven of the man’s family members in Hong Kong are asymptomatic, and five of them that are close contacts will be admitted to the hospital for observation and testing, the CHP said. Further investigations are under way into the man’s travel and exposure history, and the CHP is working with mainland authorities to identify the man’s contacts during his stay in Kaiping. Extinction Protocol
You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. “There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world,” said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman. More