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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which limited the federal definition of marriage to “one man and one woman,” “invalid” and in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The ruling will immediately grant federal benefits to married, same-sex couples, but leaves in place laws that ban gay marriage within an individual state. The court declined to decide the second case brought before them on California’s Proposition 8 on technical grounds. Since officials in California had not appealed the trial court’s decision invalidating Proposition 8, the bill’s proponents did not have the right to assume the state’s role by doing so. Effectively, this leaves gay marriage legal in California. Roughly 30% of Americans now live in places where same-sex marriage is legal. The court did not, however, rule on whether marriage itself is a right protected by the Constitution.

Syrian Death Toll Reaches 100,000

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been tracking the death toll of the Syrian civil war, said that the death toll had surpassed 100,000 – and that even this number was almost certainly too low. The announcement comes as the possibility for an end to the bloodshed looks ever more remote. The Assad regime’s forces took control of Tel Kalakh, a border village near Lebanon that had been a major supply line for the rebels. The conflict has increasingly taken on sectarian tones, which have spilled over Syria’s borders and polarized the entire region. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out a military intervention in Syria, citing the number of foreign entities that are embroiled in the conflict. He called for a peaceful settlement, arguing that continued fighting would “empower extremists” and could lead to the collapse of the state followed by a descent into sectarian strife. The already-delayed peace talks planned for July have been postponed indefinitely.

Major Victories for Brazilian Protesters

Responding to continued pressure from protesters, Brazil’s Congress overwhelmingly voted down a controversial bill that would have limited federal prosecutors’ ability to investigate crimes, leaving the power to conduct investigations solely to the police force. Many feared the bill, which just last month seemed set to pass easily, would make it harder to prosecute official corruption. Congress also voted to allocate 75% of the royalties from newly-discovered large oil finds to education and the remaining 25% to healthcare. It restarted a measure to recruit more foreign doctors to make up for Brazil’s shortage, and the president of the senate has proposed free transport for all students. Nevertheless, protests are again scheduled for Wednesday night in cities across Brazil, to keep the pressure on public officials high. Protesters blocked several major highways leading to Belo Horizonte, where the semifinals for the Confederations Cup will be held. 50,000 peacefully marched on Belo Horizonte’s stadium, while tens of thousands gathered in other cities.

States Rush To Pass Restrictive Voting Laws

Across the South, states rushed to take advantage of  the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, which argued that federal oversight of voting laws was no longer necessary. Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi all declared their intentions to implement restrictive laws requiring voters to show one of a limited number of photo IDs in order to receive a ballot. This would exclude previously accepted forms of identification, such as social security cards, birth certificates and student IDs (although expired gun licenses from other states would still be acceptable). North Carolina alone has over 60 local or statewide election laws that had previously been ruled discriminatory by the Justice Department, but that could now be enforced. One of these includes a literacy requirement to be eligible to vote. States will also be able to enforce restricted early voting hours and re-introduce overruled redistricting plans.


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