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In an historic victory for the LGBT movement, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — or DOMA — signed by President Clinton into law is unconstitutional. This means that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to claim the same 1,100 federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The lead plaintiff in the case, 84-year-old Edith Windsor, hailed the ruling.
Edith Windsor: "I’m honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here today to represent not only the thousands of Americans whose lives — whose lives have been adversely impacted by the Defense of Marriage Act, but those whose hopes and dreams have been constricted by the same discriminatory law. Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA, and those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married as Thea and I did, but with the same federal benefits, protections and dignity as everyone else."
Windsor sued the federal government after she was forced to pay additional estate taxes because it did not recognize her marriage to her wife, Thea Spyer.
Just minutes after DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court, a New York City immigration judge stopped the deportation hearing of a gay Colombian man married to a U.S. citizen. Although Sean and Steven Brooks were legally married in New York, federal law did not recognize their union. An intern at the law firm representing the couple ran five blocks to hand the Supreme Court’s ruling to the judge right after it was posted online.
The Supreme Court also ruled supporters of the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California do not have standing to appeal a lower-court ruling that overturned it. This effectively gives the green light for same-sex weddings to proceed in California, the most populous state in the country.
Ecuador is facing U.S. pressure to reject the asylum bid of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that welcoming Snowden "would severely jeopardize" U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador. Menendez said: "Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior." Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, meanwhile says his government could take anywhere between a few days to a few months to decide on Snowden’s asylum bid. Snowden is believed to remain in a transit area of a Moscow airport. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Snowden has damaged the United States, and urged Russia to hand him over.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here and turn Snowden over to the United States. General [Martin] Dempsey said, others, yes, there was damage done to this country by the Snowden leaks. And we are assessing that now, but, make no mistake, this violation of our laws was a serious security breach in our national security apparatus."
President Obama has begun his three-nation tour of Africa in Senegal. Obama’s trip is beginning with a visit to Gorée Island, the port from where African slaves were forcibly sent to the United States.
President Obama is due to visit South Africa, where former President Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized in critical condition. South African President Jacob Zuma canceled a foreign trip and visited Mandela in the hospital on Wednesday. Mandela’s condition is said to have worsened in the last 36 hours, and his family is reportedly making preparations for his funeral.
The Senate has approved an amendment to the immigration reform bill that radically expands enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. The $46 billion measure would nearly double the number of border agents to 40,000, expand the use of drones and construct around 700 miles of border fencing. The amendment was approved by an overwhelming vote of 69 to 29. Republicans introduced it in a bid to win their colleagues’ support for the immigration bill’s broader proposal to extend an eventual path to citizenship to millions of undocumented people. But now a number of immigrant rights groups are voicing concerns the added "security" requirements are so extreme they undermine the bill overall. In a statement, leaders of the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group, Presente.org, said they cannot support the immigration bill "in good conscience" if it is also "guaranteed to increase death and destruction through increased militarization of the border." The Mexican government is also voicing similar concerns. In his first public comments on the new requirements, Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade criticized the building of more barriers along the border.
Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade: "We’re convinced that a wall is not the solution for the migration phenomena and is not congruent with a modern and secure border. It does not contribute to the development of a competitive region that both countries are looking for and support."
Final passage of the Senate immigration bill could come as early as today. It faces an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has said he will not allow a vote without a majority of Republican support.
Texas has carried out its 500th execution and the first in the United States of a female prisoner in nearly three years. Kimberly McCarthy was executed for the 1997 murder of a neighbor. She won a reprieve earlier this year as lawmakers considered a bill affecting the composition of juries. McCarthy, who was black, was convicted by a jury of 11 whites and one African American. Defense attorneys say the jury was improperly selected on the basis of race.
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by four former Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib against the military contractor CACI International. The men have accused the firm’s employees of taking part in the torture and abuse of prisoners. One of the plaintiffs, an Iraqi farmer, alleges he was caged, beaten, threatened with dogs and given electric shocks during more than four years in U.S. detention. In dismissing the lawsuit, the presiding judge cited the recent Supreme Court decision to restrict lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute against corporations for abuses on foreign soil. Another contractor, Engility Holdings, formerly known as L-3 Services and before that Titan Corporation, agreed to pay a more than $5 million settlement to 71 former Abu Ghraib prisoners last year. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped bring the lawsuit, said: "[The court’s] ruling effectively creates lawless spaces where even U.S.-based entities can commit torture and war crimes with impunity."
The New York City Council has approved a landmark measure to increase oversight of the police department and expand safeguards against profiling. The Community Safety Act creates an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department and broadens the definition of biased profiling to include age, gender, housing status and sexual orientation. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to veto the measure, but it passed with enough support to override him should he strike it down.
The vote comes as the CIA has acknowledged four former officers were embedded with the New York City Police Department, despite a ban on the agency’s involvement in domestic spying. According to The New York Times, one of the officers helped conduct local surveillance but justified his role because he on an unpaid leave of absence. The findings were contained in a summary of an internal CIA probe in 2011 that cleared the CIA and NYPD of wrongdoing after their collaboration was revealed. In the years after 9/11, the CIA helped the NYPD develop a so-called "Demographics Unit" that used informants to spy on Muslims. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which helped obtain the probe’s findings, said: "Despite the assurances of the CIA’s press office, the activities documented in this report cross the line [into domestic surveillance] and highlight the need for more oversight."
A number of activists with the group CodePink were arrested at the White House on Wednesday in a protest for the closure of the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay. The group’s co-founder, Diane Wilson, was arrested after scaling the White House fence and attempting to deliver a letter to the White House front door. Wilson is on a liquid-only fast in solidarity with hunger-striking Guantánamo prisoners.
The second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman for killing unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin continues in Florida. On Wednesday, Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, took the stand to testify about her phone conversation with Martin just before Zimmerman shot him dead. Jeantel said Martin described Zimmerman as a "creepy" man who was following him. She said Martin’s last words were "Get off! Get off!" before the line went dead. Her testimony continues today.