Nation in brief: Court can’t force gay marriage vote

Massachusetts’ highest court said Wednesday it has no authority to force lawmakers to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

But it rebuked the Legislature for its “indifference to, or defiance of, its constitutional duties.”

The unanimous 7-0 ruling leaves the fate of the amendment up in the air in the only state that allows gay marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage have collected 170,000 signatures in favor of an amendment to end the practice. But the measure needs the Legislature’s approval to appear on the 2008 ballot, and lawmakers refused to vote on the proposal last month.

Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican expected to run for president in 2008, and other opponents of gay marriage responded by suing to try to force the lawmakers to act.


Fix begins on leaking pipeline

A ruptured offshore pipeline that spilled 42,500 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico kept leaking Wednesday as crews began the cleanup, a Coast Guard official said.

The rupture, at a site about 30 miles southeast of Galveston, was leaking at a rate of about 500 gallons per day, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mario Romero. He said a diving crew was being sent Wednesday to fix it.

Crews began skimming operations and would continue as long as the seas remained calm, Romero said.

The spill occurred after a portion of the High Island Pipeline System ruptured early Sunday.

The cause of the rupture is under investigation, he said.


White House urges polar bear listing

Polar bears are in jeopardy and need stronger government protection because of melting Arctic sea ice related to global warming, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed listing polar bears as a “threatened” species on the government list of imperiled species. The “endangered” category is reserved for species more likely to become extinct.

A final decision on whether to add the polar bears to the list is a year away, after the government finishes more studies.


Judge rules against abortion opponent

A judge refused Wednesday to reinstate criminal charges against a Wichita abortion doctor, only hours after the outgoing attorney general named a special prosecutor to handle the case.

Last week, Attorney General Phill Kline, a vocal abortion opponent, filed 30 charges against Dr. George Tiller, accusing him of performing 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003 on patients ages 10 to 22 and not properly reporting details to the state.

Sedgwick County Judge Paul W. Clark threw out the charges on jurisdictional grounds less than a day later. Kline then asked Clark to reinstate the charges, but the judge rejected that request during a hearing Wednesday.


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