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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

US Supreme Court Backs Gay Marriage

In a landmark victory for gay rights, the US Supreme Court issued two rulings on Wednesday backing same-sex marriage. The first struck down a 1996 law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, the Defense of Marriage Act. “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity”, wrote Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion, where he was joined by the court’s other four more liberal justices. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment”, he added. In the second decision, the court effectively declined to decide whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The case concerned California’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, and analysts say the court’s ruling could effectively mean same-sex marriages in the state could resume shortly.

Australian PM Gillard Ousted in Snap Leadership Ballot

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was ousted from her position as leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and from her post on Wednesday in a final showdown with bitter rival Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister and ALP backbencher. The leadership ballot was brought on by Gillard after she learned Rudd supporters began circulating a petition to force a leadership vote. She said, however, that the loser should commit to leave politics for good, a condition Rudd accepted. Speaking after his 57-45 leadership ballot victory, Rudd thanked Gillard, saying she was a “woman of extraordinary intelligence, great strength and great energy” and a “remarkable reformer”. He said his return was prompted by a strong desire to avoid a Liberal victory. “Why am I taking on this challenge? For me it’s pretty basic, it’s pretty clear. I simply do not have it in my nature to stand idly by and to allow an Abbott government to come to power in this country by default”, he said. Gillard said she respected the decision her colleagues had made and asked them to “go out there with our Labor agenda” and win the upcoming elections.

Snowden Asylum Decision ‘Could Take Months’

A decision on US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden’s request for asylum in Ecuador could take months, according to Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño. Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, he said his government would have to consider a host of factors before making a decision, including the potential damage to relations with the US should asylum be granted. “It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time”, he said, adding that Snowden would have to reach an Ecuadorean embassy before the government decided if it would grant him provisional protection before an asylum decision. Meanwhile, workers at a capsule hotel in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport said Snowden had indeed stayed there, but had checked out “a long time ago” and Aeroflot representatives said he was not booked on a flight to Cuba “for the next three days”.

Pope Francis Begins Investigation on the Workings of the Vatican Bank

Pope Francis set up a commission to investigate the activities of the Institute for the Works on Religion (IWR) on Wednesday, telling officials that any findings should be reported directly to him. While the commission will not be empowered to directly govern the Vatican bank or make any reforms, analysts say it signals that the pontiff wants the institution to move towards greater transparency and accountability. A source at the Vatican, speaking to the National Catholic Report, said the Pope instructed his investigators to “trust with reluctance and verify deeply”. He gave the commission legal force through a “chirograph”, an instrument of canon law that gives it the power to collect documents and interview personnel while specifying that traditional Vatican requirements of secrecy will not impede access to any information. The IWR controls roughly US$7 billion in assets over 19,000 accounts and has been accused of facilitating money laundering over the years.

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