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OKLAHOMA GAY-MARRIAGE CASE BEFORE US APPEALS COURT

Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:25 Published in National News

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Lawyers for two Oklahoma women and the county clerk who would not give them a marriage license go before a federal appeals court with a familiar question for the judges: Did the state's voters single out gay people for unfair treatment when they defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman?

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard similar issues in a Utah case last week, giving Oklahoma lawyers a preview of what questions they might face.

"Essentially, (the cases) are not that different," said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Byron Babione, who is representing Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith. "Both of them involve challenges to state marriage amendments that were passed by an overwhelming majority of the people."

Babione said Smith's legal team was encouraged by hard questions posed by the 10th Circuit judges last week, saying they seemed tailored to the argument that a state's residents have the right to define marriage how they see fit.

But lawyers for Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin might look to questions posed by U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome A. Holmes, who asked whether Utah's same-sex marriage ban was similar to Virginia's former ban on interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that ban 47 years ago.

Holmes also said, however, that gay marriages are a new concept for courts to address and that perhaps it is best to defer to the democratic process unless there is a compelling reason to step in.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern of Tulsa ruled in January that Oklahoma's ban violated the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution. He immediately stayed his ruling, preventing any same-sex marriages from taking place while the ruling was appealed. In contrast, more than 1,000 gay couples in Utah married before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to issue a stay.

Kern rejected an attempt by another couple, Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, to have their California marriage recognized in Oklahoma. Kern said Barton and Phillips sued the wrong person.

The Utah and Oklahoma cases are very similar: both involve bans on same-sex marriage passed by a majority of voters in 2004 - 76 percent in Oklahoma and 66 percent in Utah - and both bans were struck down by federal judges within a month of one another in December and January. The legal arguments for and against the ban are also similar.

Baldwin said her lawyer attended last week's arguments and believes it went well.

"I think we were struck by how, frankly, it's the same old arguments they've been using all along that have been so unsuccessful," said Baldwin. "They make it sound as though there are a limited number of marriage licenses and if they start handing out marriage licenses willy-nilly to same-sex couples who can't have a child, then what is that going to do to procreation? Well, it's not going to do anything to procreation. People who still want to have children will still have children."

Alliance Defending Freedom, which also had a representative at the Utah oral arguments, left the court encouraged, Babione said.

"From our perspective, that is a good thing, because we don't think this is an issue that can be decided based on superficial sentiments, but really needs to be decided on the important government interest at stake," he said.

It's not clear when the three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit will issue its rulings. The judges will likely issue separate rulings, but they may come on the same day. The losing sides could appeal to the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

MAN CHARGED WITH MARATHON HOAX IS HELD ON BAIL

Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:12 Published in National News

BOSTON (AP) — The man arrested near the Boston Marathon finish line carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker was sent to a state psychiatric facility for an evaluation Wednesday after an initial court appearance.

Kevin "Kayvon" Edson, 25, was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital and ordered held on $100,000 bail at an appearance in Boston Municipal Court on charges of threatening battery, possession of a hoax explosive device, threats to commit a crime, disturbing the peace, disturbing a public assembly and disorderly conduct. He's due back in court May 7.

Edson was arrested Tuesday hours after ceremonies to mark last year's Boston Marathon bombings, in which two pressure cooker bombs hidden in backpacks exploded, killing three people near the finish line and injuring more than 260 others.

The backpack incident rattled nerves days ahead of this year's marathon. Police kept people away from the finish line area for about three hours Tuesday and trains bypassed the nearby Copley Square station.

Edson, with addresses in Boston and Wakefield, was stopped late Tuesday after passers-by told an officer they saw him yelling, walking barefoot down the middle of a street, veiled in black, in pouring rain. His face was painted yellow and blue, the traditional colors of the marathon, police said. The street was open to pedestrians at the time, and police said his presence was not a security breach.

The backpack was destroyed. Police determined that its contents were not explosive.

According to a police report read aloud in court, after Edson was read his rights, he told an officer: "I knew what I was doing, it was conceived in my head. It's symbolism, come on. The performance got the best of me."

In a statement, his family said, "Our family is so sorry and emotionally overwhelmed by the events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday. To have this happen on the one-year anniversary of such a horrific crime is unfathomable."

Edson's mother, Joie Edson, said her son has battled bipolar disorder for many years and his mental state has recently deteriorated.

A second suspicious backpack also was found Tuesday. Officers determined it had been left behind by a media outlet and was not dangerous, but it too was destroyed.

"With the marathon coming, our officers are taking it seriously," police Superintendent Randall Halstead said. "The safety of the public is utmost."

PRO-RUSSIAN GUNMEN MAKE INROADS IN EASTERN UKRAINE

Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:10 Published in National News

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — The well-armed, Moscow-backed insurgency sowing chaos in eastern Ukraine scored a new victory Wednesday, seizing armored vehicles and weapons from underequipped government forces, then rolling through two cities to a hero's welcome.

Responding to what it sees as Russia's aggression, NATO announced it was increasing its military presence along its eastern border, closest to Russia and Ukraine. And the Obama administration moved to ratchet up its response, preparing new sanctions on Russia and boosted assistance for the struggling Ukrainian military.

Wednesday's setbacks came just 24 hours after a much-touted Ukrainian army operation to retake control of Solvyansk and other cities in the restive east, and appeared to reflect growing indecisiveness by the new Kiev leadership, which has vowed for days to re-establish its authority there.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed along the border with Ukraine, there are fears the Kremlin might use the instability in the predominantly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for seizing more territory beyond its annexation of Crimea last month.

The day began with throngs of residents in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, some 10 miles (15 kilometers) south of Slovyansk, encircling a column of Ukrainian armored vehicles carrying several dozen troops. Soon after, masked gunmen in combat gear, wearing the black-and-orange St. George ribbons distinguishing them as pro-Russian militia, reached the site.

Without offering resistance, the Ukrainian soldiers surrendered the vehicles to the militiamen, who sat atop them as they drove them into Slovyansk, Russian flags fluttering in the breeze.

They were greeted by a cheering crowd of some 1,000 people that, although numerous, did not necessarily represent the views of the entire city of 130,000.

One Ukrainian soldier said they had defected to the pro-Russian side, but another suggested they were forced at gunpoint to hand over the vehicles.

"How was I supposed to behave if I had guns pointed at me?" the soldier, who did not identify himself, asked a resident.

Hours later, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry broke its silence, acknowledging the seizure of the military hardware and saying the whereabouts of the Ukrainian soldiers was not known. The Interfax news agency quoted an insurgent leader in Slovyansk, Miroslav Rudenko, as saying the soldiers would be offered the chance to join a local militia or leave the region.

Insurgents in Slovyansk have seized the police headquarters and the administration building, demanding broader autonomy for eastern Ukraine and closer ties with Russia.

Similar seizures have occurred in at least 10 other cities in eastern Ukraine — and the central government says Moscow is fomenting the unrest in a region that was once the support base for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after months of protests over his rejection of closer relations with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Despite the frenzied welcome given the pro-Russian militiamen in Slovyansk, opinions were divided. Some residents were happy with the pro-Russian forces that have now taken effective control over the city.

"We will never allow the fascist Kiev authorities to come here," said Andrei Bondar, 32, a Slovyansk resident.

But others, like Tetyana Kustova, a 35-year-old sales clerk, were appalled by the unrest.

"They are pushing us toward Russia," she said. "They are tearing Ukraine into pieces."

Later Wednesday, in Pchyolkino, a town south of Slovyansk, several hundred residents surrounded 14 Ukrainian armored vehicles. Fearing the troops were sent to quell them, the crowd refused to let the vehicles leave despite the pleas of a Ukrainian officer.

They were soon joined by masked pro-Russian gunmen whose sophisticated firearms and battle-readiness have ignited suspicions they, and other militiamen like them, may be troops under direct Russian command.

To end the standoff, leaders in the crowd told their Ukrainian commander, Lt. Colonel Oleksandr Shvets, they would let his 100-strong troops go if they handed over the magazines from their assault rifles. The soldiers removed the magazines, put them in plastic bags and gave them to the pro-Russian militia.

"We are really tired of all of this confusion," said Sgt. Dmytro Mokletsov. "It's really scary giving away the magazines. We have no weapons now. But we were told to, it was an order."

Reflecting the West's concern over the turmoil in Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation and preparations for diplomatic talks Thursday in Geneva on Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin told Merkel that "the sharp escalation of the conflict places the country in effect on the verge of a civil war." Merkel's office said she and Putin had "different assessments" of the events in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, said NATO will respond to what he called Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region and allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere if needed, he said.

"We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels.

Ukraine is not a NATO member but several NATO members — Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland — all border Russia. NATO members Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey also border the Black Sea, along with Russia and Ukraine.

In Washington, officials said they had no plans to levy new sanctions ahead of Thursday's talks in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. But with low expectations for a breakthrough in those meetings, officials already have prepared targets for sanctions that include wealthy individuals close to Putin and the entities they run.

The administration also was working on a package of non-lethal assistance for Ukraine's military. The assistance, which was expected to be finalized this week, could include medical supplies and clothing for Ukraine's military, but was expected to stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment.

At the United Nations, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic warned the Security Council that the violence risks "seriously destabilizing the country as a whole." Western countries on the Security Council said the new report undermines Russia's claims about the events that led to its recent annexation of Crimea, and they warned of a similar situation unfolding now.

Late on Wednesday, pro-Russian gangs launched an assault of a military base on the Black Sea port of Mariupol. The National Guard said in a statement that a mob responded to official refusal to admit them into the base by trying to smash down the gates and firebombing the checkpoint. Local news website 0629.com.ua reported that at least one person in the attacking party died in the ensuing clash.

No official confirmation on casualties was available overnight Wednesday.

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest.

"Russia has got a new export now, apart from oil and gas: Russia is now exporting terrorism to Ukraine," Yatsenyuk told a Cabinet meeting. "Russia must withdraw its sabotage groups, condemn terrorists and liberate all administrative buildings."

___

Associated Press writers Peter Leonard in Donetsk, Maria Danilova and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev, Laura Mills in Moscow and Juergen Baetz and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.

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