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The week at a glance...United States

United States

San FranciscoGay marriage ban overturned: California’s four-year-old ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal appeals court this week. By a 2–1 vote, the judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the state’s Proposition 8, which limited marriage to a man and a woman, but the court did not address the question of whether marriage was a fundamental right for same-sex couples. The decision instead focused only on the California law, and found it unconstitutional. “Proposition 8 serves no purpose,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt, “and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” Legal experts predict that the U.S. Supreme Court, if it hears the case at all, will likewise limit itself to ruling on the California measure. Same-sex marriages are unlikely to resume until the appeals process moves forward.

Los AngelesArmstrong escapes charges: Lance Armstrong won’t face criminal charges over allegations that he took performance-enhancing drugs during his legendary cycling career, federal prosecutors said last week. Investigators have spent the past two years looking into whether the seven-time Tour de France winner committed fraud by accepting money from sponsors, including the U.S. Postal Service, while allegedly engaging in doping. A grand jury heard testimony from a number of Armstrong’s associates and teammates, including Olympic medalist Tyler Hamilton, who said that he and Armstrong had used banned substances. Doping isn’t a federal crime, but prosecutors explored whether Armstrong had committed mail fraud, drug distribution, and other crimes. Armstrong, who has long denied the doping charges, praised prosecutors for making “the right decision” in dropping the case. “I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction.”

Los AngelesSex-abuse probe widens: A second teacher at Miramonte Elementary School was arrested for lewd conduct last week, charged with fondling a 7-year-old girl in his classroom. Martin Springer, 49, was removed from his classroom just days after prosecutors accused former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt of performing bondage rituals and bizarre sexual acts with 23 children. A lawyer representing several of the alleged victims has implicated a third teacher, who reportedly worked with Berndt in carrying out the abuse. Superintendant John Deasy canceled classes for two days and reassigned the entire teaching staff, while police and district officials continued to investigate “a culture of silence” at the school that may have contributed to the abuse. “I feel angry,” said Elisa Araque, the mother of a third-grader. “They do this with children that can’t defend themselves.”

AtlantaSuicide law struck down: Georgia’s highest court this week overturned the state’s assisted suicide law, in a decision that will lead to the dismissal of criminal charges against four members of the Final Exit assisted suicide network. The state’s Supreme Court said the law, which made it a felony to advertise to help people who want to end their lives, violated the First Amendment by “abridging the freedom of speech.” The court added that a ban on assisted suicide may be legal, but the Georgia law targeted only those who publicly offered to assist in a suicide. Four members of Final Exit Network were arrested in February 2009, accused of helping throat-cancer victim John Celmer, 58, to end his life. “We are overjoyed for our friends and colleagues,” said Final Exit’s president, Wendell Stephenson. “These are good and compassionate people who did not break any laws.”

Washington, D.C. Compromise on contraception: Stung by charges leveled by Catholic clergy and Republicans that the White House was at war with religious liberty, the Obama administration this week suggested it was open to compromise on its decision that religious schools and hospitals must include birth control in their health-care coverage for employees. The White House assured liberal supporters that it wasn’t backing down, but senior re-election adviser David Axelrod indicated that the administration was already considering ways to soothe the concerns of angry Catholic voters. “We’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said. One such option—to allow religious employers to refer employees to outside insurers—has been dismissed as “the sugar-coated version of ‘force you to comply,’” by Anthony Picarello of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been leading the opposition to the new requirement.

Washington, D.C.Obama’s Super PAC reversal: Backing away from his long-held position against large outside donations to political campaigns, President Obama this week directed his staff and Cabinet to actively support the fund-raising efforts of Priorities USA Action, a Democratic “Super PAC.” The new stance comes amid evidence that the Obama campaign badly lags the Republicans in funding Super PACs, which aren’t bound by stricter rules governing donations given directly to campaigns and are proving decisive in the GOP primaries. Democratic Super PACs raised only about $19 million last year, compared with more than $70 million by Republican groups, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. “We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.”

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