AUSTIN — The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case on gay marriage spousal benefits in its downtown Austin courtroom.

Seeking to stop government-paid benefits to same-sex spouses, opponents of gay marriage told the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday that there is no fundamental right to insurance coverage.

Although a landmark 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that same-sex couples have a right to wed, the ruling did not require lower courts to grant similar protection to insurance benefits for same-sex spouses, lawyer Jonathan Mitchell told the state’s highest civil court.

The opposing lawyer, however, dismissed that argument as a red herring.

While the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hughes did not create a right to benefits, it recognized a far more important and sweeping standard — the right for same-sex marriages to be treated equally, lawyer Douglas Alexander told the court.

The case arose out of then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 decision to grant benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees who had married in other states.

Several taxpayers who oppose gay marriage sued, and a state district judge issued an injunction barring Houston from extending the benefits, saying Parker violated a state law and an amendment to the Texas Constitution that prohibited same-sex marriage or any action recognizing a same-sex union.

While an appeal from Houston was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion that overturned state bans on gay marriage, prompting an appeals court to reverse the injunction.

The taxpayers turned to the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, which initially rejected their appeal in September.

A campaign by social and religious conservatives produced a barrage of emails asking the eight other justices to reconsider or risk a backlash in the next Republican primary. Leading Republicans joined the call, and in January the court issued a rarely granted motion to rehear the case.

—Austin American-Statesman


Judge: Casey Anthony may have killed her child by accident

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Circuit Judge Belvin Perry Jr. on Wednesday said he believes Casey Anthony may have killed her daughter by accident, that she tried to quiet the child with chloroform and simply used too much.

It’s a theory, he said, and if jurors had come to that conclusion, they might have found her guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Anthony was charged with first-degree murder after her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, disappeared in 2008. Anthony was charged with first-degree murder, and prosecutors asked for the death penalty, but a jury in 2011 acquitted her.

Perry presided over the trial.

In a phone interview Wednesday, he did not find fault with the verdict but said evidence showed that Anthony had gone online to research how to use chloroform as a sedative.

A scientist also reported finding chloroform in the trunk of her car, where prosecutors said Anthony likely put the body temporarily.

Authorities were unable to determine a cause of death. The child’s remains were found five months after she was reported missing.

Defense attorney Jose Baez told jurors that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family’s pool and that someone else hid the body.

Prosecutors said Anthony used chloroform on the child then suffocated her by putting duct tape over her mouth.

In the past, Perry said, surgeons used chloroform as an anesthetic.

“There was a possibility that she may have utilized that to keep the baby quiet … and just used too much of it, and the baby died,” he said.

—Orlando Sentinel


Michael Jackson’s former Neverland relists for $67 million, down from $100 million

LOS ANGELES — Neverland, the onetime ranch and private playground of the late pop icon Michael Jackson, has returned to market for $67 million, a 33 percent price chop from its original list price of $100 million.

The property, now known as Sycamore Valley Ranch, is set on 2,700 park-like acres outside Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley. It centers on a Normandy-style mansion designed by architect Robert Altevers and built in 1982. The roughly 13,000-square-foot house features exposed beams, parquet floors, five fireplaces and a master wing complete with its own garden.

A 50-seat theater and dance studio, a four-bedroom guesthouse and a separate two-bedroom guesthouse are among nearly two dozen other structures on the estate. Also on the property is a swimming pool, a sports court and a red barn originally built to house Clydesdale horses.

Jackson, who died in 2009 at 50, bought the property for $19.5 million in the late ’80s from golf course entrepreneur William Bone. He was in default on the loan on the ranch when it was bought by Colony Capital about eight years ago for $22.5 million.

—Los Angeles Times


Trump debuted a new tone Tuesday night, but Mexicans aren’t buying it

MEXICO CITY — President Donald Trump dumped the gloomy message of his inauguration speech in favor of a more optimistic tone in his address to Congress Tuesday night.

South of the border, many were watching closely.

Mexico, after all, has much at stake as Trump considers major changes on trade and immigration. Just look at the Mexican peso, which fluctuates daily depending on what the U.S. president says.

Mexican political analysts took note of Trump’s more hopeful tone. Gone was his pugnacious vow to put “America first.” And while Trump spoke of creating a “merit-based” immigration system, he did not threaten mass deportations.

But some warned Mexicans not to be fooled by Trump’s more “presidential” presentation.

“The ideas of Trump’s speech are the same, but the tone is different — it is presidential,” said Mexican political analyst Javier Tello in a television interview Wednesday. He cautioned Mexicans not to trust Trump.

“Trump’s ideology remains nationalistic, both economically and culturally,” Tello said. “It is still closed, it is still nativist.”

Many took note of Trump’s emphasis on victims of crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally. In his speech, Trump highlighted several such crimes, and he encouraged members of Congress to stand and clap for several family members of the victims who were seated alongside Trump’s family.

“Trump’s vision is simple: to be an immigrant is to be criminal, period,” tweeted Carlos Bravo Regidor, a professor at Mexico’s Center for Research and Teaching Economics.

—Los Angeles Times

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