Law? What law? Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the federal government will recognize about 1,000 same-sex marriages conducted in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stop to the ceremonies earlier this week. In a videotaped message, Holder said couples who received marriage licenses would be entitled to federal benefits reserved for married couples. Utah officials consider the unions illegal and will not recognize them, at least not until the nation’s high court says they must. Utah is fighting a legal challenge to its law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Lower courts ruled the law unconstitutional and refused to halt the ceremonies while the case moved forward. The Supreme Court disagreed, unanimously. But the Obama administration has other ideas: “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” Holder said.
This law. The administration’s refusal to honor states’ traditional marriage laws has prompted Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, to file a bill directing federal officials to abide by each state’s marriage laws as it doles out benefits. After the Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration directed federal agencies to give same-sex marriages full legal recognition, even if the couples live in states that don’t recognize their unions. Conservative groups are applauding Weber’s bill as a necessary step to reassert states’ rights in the marriage debate.
What a mess. Chemicals used in the coal-preparation process leaked from a holding tank in Charleston, W.Va. late Thursday, prompting state officials to ban all use of tap water in the area. While crews worked to mitigate the spill’s effect on the nearby Elk River, President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to assist in the cleanup efforts. Local schools and restaurants remained closed today. After bottled water evaporated from store shelves, the West Virginia National Guard began distributing a fresh supply to anxious residents. Regulators with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection discovered the spill. The company—Freedom Industries—did not report the accident.
Day in court. The U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday it has scheduled a date to hear arguments in craft chain Hobby Lobby’s fight against the government’s health insurance contraceptive mandate. Lawyers will present oral arguments March 25. The court’s ruling will determine whether the government can force a Christian employer pay for employees’ contraceptive and abortifacient drugs, something many evangelical and Catholic business owners say violates their conscience. If it loses the case and refuses to comply with the law, Hobby Lobby will owe the government more than $1 million a day in fines. Company CEO David Green has said his family would rather close the company than pay for the drugs.
Into the breach, again. Target now says up to 70 million more customers had their personal information stolen in a massive data breach at the height of the holiday shopping season. The company previously estimated cyber thieves snatched credit and debit card numbers from 40 million customers. Although some of the same customers may be included in both groups, company president Gregg Steinhafel acknowledged today the data breach might have affected more than 100 million customers. Target is offering customers who had their data stolen one year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.