Under orders from the New Jersey Supreme Court, the New Jersey Legislature has about six months to decide how-not whether-to extend the "rights and benefits" of marriage to same-sex couples. The court ruled on Oct. 25 that the legislature "must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure" for civil unions. Republicans, outnumbered in both chambers of the legislature, said they would push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but both Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. promised to block any such measure. Several Democrats, meanwhile, said they would seek full marriage rights for same-sex couples. Lara Schwartz, legal director of the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign, declared the ruling a victory regardless of whether legislators choose civil unions or full marriage rights: "They get to decide whether it's chocolate or double-chocolate chip."
October was the deadliest month in the past year for U.S. troops in Iraq, with the death toll reaching 96 when four Marines and a sailor died on Oct. 26 after fighting in Anbar province. At an Oct. 25 news conference, President Bush expressed frustration with events in Iraq: "I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied either." But he also reiterated his opposition to setting a timetable for withdrawal of the 144,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq. A fixed timetable "means defeat," he said. "You can't leave until the job is done."
Terrorists abducted Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti, a Spanish national, at gunpoint in front of his apartment in Gaza City on Oct. 24 and then released him after 16 hours. He was the 11th foreign journalist kidnapped in the Gaza Strip since 2004. No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and Morenatti said he was unharmed: "I'm tired but happy to have come back because there were very anguished moments."
With polls showing their party poised to make big gains at least in the House of Representatives on Nov. 7, Democrats are brimming with confidence. Generic congressional ballot polls showed Democrats holding a lead of as much as 15 points over Republicans less than two weeks before Election Day. "I've moved from optimistic to giddy," Gordon Fischer, former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, told The New York Times. "I really have." But Republicans say they're bouncing back in public opinion, and they also have a technological ace up their sleeve: a sophisticated data-mining research effort to help them identify sympathetic voters and persuade them to go to the polls.
President Bush on Oct. 26 signed into law a bill that authorizes 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws," he said. "We have a responsibility to secure our borders." Republicans in the House, however, continued to block the advancement of the president's highest priority on immigration policy-a guest worker program. Meanwhile, many cities even far away from the border have both struggled with and benefited from newcomers.
New home prices were down almost 10 percent in September, the largest year-over-year decline since December 1970. The Commerce Department reported last week that the median price for a new home had fallen in September to $217,100, its lowest level in two years. Prices declined even though sales of new homes rose 5.3 percent nationally, with strong sales in the West and South offsetting a 34.5 percent drop in sales in the Northeast. The median price for existing homes fell nationally as well, dropping 2.5 percent from September 2005.
The news added to speculation that the Federal Reserve would continue to hold steady on interest rates. At their meeting on Oct. 25, Fed governors kept their benchmark short-term interest rate unchanged at 5.25 percent, arguing that "inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time."
North Korea has extracted 110 pounds of high-grade plutonium, enough to make seven nuclear bombs, according to a South Korean defense report made public on Oct. 26. Military officials came up with the estimate a day after Pyongyang's Oct. 9 nuclear test. They say the North could use its Russian-made bombers to drop the bombs. The Communist state has also reportedly built a nuclear warhead that is currently too heavy to mount on a missile. The news adds to growing confusion in Seoul over how to handle its neighbor, even as China has taken first steps to punish the Kim Jong Il regime.