Gay marriage case — The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a section of federal law that only recognizes heterosexual marriages. In a filing with the court, the administration says the Defense of Marriage Act denies legally married same-sex couples many federal benefits, including federal tax and Social Security survivor’s benefits. In its brief — filed as the justices prepare to hear arguments next month in a challenge to the 1996 law — the administration said the provision “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection."
Gun legislation — This week, Congress begins considering legislation that is likely to include expanded background checks for gun buyers and increased penalties for those who purchase guns for criminals. The best chance at legislative consensus appears to rest in negotiations between Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., over a measure that would expand background checks to nearly all gun purchases. Currently about 40 percent of gun purchases do not require them. Still, talks have stalled over a provision that would require records to be kept of private gun sales.
Gulf oil spill trial — With a major civil trial scheduled to start Monday in New Orleans against BP over the explosion of an offshore drilling rig in 2010, federal officials and those from the five affected Gulf Coast states are trying to strike an eleventh-hour settlement to settle the case. A lawyer briefed on those talks said the Justice Department and the states have reportedly prepared an offer to resolve the two biggest issues central to a series of trials against BP — fines that the company would pay for violations of the Clean Water Act, and how much it will have to pay for damage caused by the oil to the area.
Egyptian elections — Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Saturday called for a boycott of parliamentary elections, drawing immediate criticism from some within his movement who said it was a hasty decision. The dispute showed the fragility of a fairly new opposition front forged after the deeply fragmented movement found little success at the polls since it led the 2011 uprising.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon — Quietly but inexorably, a human tide has crept into Syria’s smallest and most vulnerable neighbor. The U.N. counts more than 305,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but aid workers say the actual number is about 400,000, saturating a country of 4 million. The Lebanese government’s hands-off response has delayed international aid, and local volunteers are running out of money and patience. Should fighting overwhelm Damascus, the Syrian capital, the Lebanese fear a wider regional conflict.
North Korea threats — North Korea warned the top U.S. military commander in South Korea on Saturday that if the United States pressed ahead with joint military exercises with South Korea scheduled to begin next month, it could set off a war in which U.S. forces would “meet a miserable destruction." The allies regularly conduct joint military drills, and the North’s warnings are nothing new.
Bird flu fatality — China has reported a second fatality from the deadly H5N1 bird flu, a 31-year-old man who died of organ failure in the south-central Chinese city of Guiyang. The flu, which is circulated in poultry and birds, has infected only 600 humans in the last decade, but has proved fatal in half the cases. Scientists fear that the flu could mutate into a form that is highly contagious in humans.
Public sours on Menendez — New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez’s approval ratings have plunged amid allegations that he improperly helped a longtime friend and donor, even as fellow Democrats say they’re standing behind him. A recent poll shows that just 36 percent of New Jersey voters approve, a 15-point drop from January.