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A bakery owned by a Christian family asked Britain's Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn a ruling that it discriminated against a gay customer for refusing to make a cake supporting same-sex marriage.

Ashers Baking Co. in Northern Ireland refused in 2014 to make a cake iced with the "Sesame Street" characters Bert and Ernie and the slogan "Support Gay Marriage."

The owners argued they were happy to bake goods for anyone, but could not put messages on their products at odds with their Christian beliefs.

After the customer filed a lawsuit that received backing from Northern Ireland's Equalities Commission, lower courts ruled that the bakery's refusal was discriminatory.

Judges from the London-based Supreme Court heard the bakery's appeal at a special sitting in Belfast that is due to continue Wednesday.

David Scoffield, lawyer for the bakery's owners, argued Tuesday that the family should not be compelled to create a product "to which they have a genuine objection in conscience."


The Supreme Court for the second time has refused to hear an appeal by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of his corruption convictions.

The justices didn't comment Monday in letting stand the convictions and 14-year prison term the 61-year-old is serving. His scheduled release date is 2024.

Blagojevich's lawyers had wanted the high court to take up his case to make clear what constitutes illegal political fundraising. They argued that politicians are vulnerable to prosecution because the line between what's allowed and what's illegal is blurry.

His convictions included trying to extort a children's hospital for contributions and seeking to trade an appointment to the Senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he was elected president for campaign cash.

The court also refused to hear his 2016 appeal.




Public officials and homeless advocates reached an agreement Tuesday on providing for homeless people who are being evicted from an encampment in a Southern California riverbed.

Orange County officials said they would use motels and other means to get 700 to 800 beds for the homeless driven from the encampment in Anaheim.

"We pledge up to 400 motel rooms, immediately," County Supervisor Andrew Do told the court, adding that the county would also add beds to other facilities and could put up a tent on a county-owned parking lot if space was needed.

Brooke Weitzman, an attorney for the plaintiffs seeking to stop the eviction, said she was concerned that the tent dwellers would not trust county officials' offer of help on such short notice, but U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter told her notices would go up as soon as Wednesday and he trusted their word.

He said he suspected homeless residents who don't want help, and want to wander, will move elsewhere.

"If you want to solve this, this is the one opportunity we really have, all the county leaders and the city leaders in one place," Carter said, after officials emerged from four hours of talks.

The sides agreed that social workers would help the homeless find longer term housing after the initial relocation, which will take place in a week.

The deal came at the demand of Carter, who called the sides in for the unusual hearing on Tuesday and is known for summoning public officials for questioning.

He called on Orange County officials, veterans, women's advocates and others to step up and offer solutions for those living on the two-mile (3.2 kilometer) stretch of riverbed trail once popular with joggers and bikers that has been overrun by tents, trash and human waste.


A Dallas man was executed Tuesday for the 1999 slaying of his ex-girlfriend while he already was on parole for killing his estranged wife.

William Rayford, 64, became the nation's second inmate put to death this year, both in Texas, when he received lethal injection for beating, stabbing and strangling 44-year-old Carol Lynn Thomas Hall. Her body was found about 300 feet (91 meters) inside a drainage pipe behind her home in South Dallas' Oak Cliff area. Hall's 11-year-old son, Benjamin, also was stabbed in the attack but survived. He testified against Rayford.

Asked by the warden at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit if he had a final statement, Rayford apologized repeatedly to his victim's four children who watched through a window a few feet from him.

"Carol didn't deserve what I done," he said. "Please try to find it in your heart to forgive me. I am sorry. It has bothered me for a long time what I have done."

He said he has made mistakes and asked God to forgive him. "If this gives you closure and makes you feel better, I have no problem with this taking place," Rayford said.

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect, he lifted his head from the pillow on the death chamber gurney, repeated that he was sorry and then said he was "going home."

He began to snore. Within seconds, all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 8:48 p.m., 13 minutes after the powerful sedative was injected.

Among the four witnesses present was the victim's son who was also stabbed in the attack. He and three siblings showed no emotion as they watched Rayford die. They declined interviews afterward.


The European Court of Justice on Tuesday opened a hearing on the recognition of same-sex marriages in European Union countries where they aren't legal.

The hearing in Luxembourg came after Romania's constitutional court asked the European court to make a ruling on the issue amid a court case in Romania brought by a Romanian-American couple who want their 2010 union to be recognized. Same-sex marriage isn't legally recognized in EU member Romania.

Iustina Ionescu, a Romanian lawyer, told the court the couple's marriage should be recognized based on the EU principle of free movement.

"We have confidence in the wisdom of the European judges that they will have the capacity to take a decision in our favor which corrects the injustices in Romania," said Adrian Coman, who has been fighting since 2012 to get his marriage to U.S. citizen Claibourn Robert Hamilton legally recognized in the same way it would be if they were a heterosexual couple.

However, representatives from Romania, Hungary, Poland and Estonia told the court Tuesday they don't want the term "spouse" to include same-sex unions.

European Commission officials said that same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are recognized or enjoy legal protection in 22 out of EU's 28 members.



An international human rights group says Guatemalan courts are foot- dragging on high-profile cases and threatening the work of the country's prosecutors and a U.N. anti-corruption commission.

Human Rights Watch analyzed eight major cases that have bogged down and concluded the courts are undermining the anticorruption work by taking too long to process appeals and pretrial motions. In a report released Sunday, the group accuses the courts of trying to run out the clock on prosecutions by keeping defendants from ever making it to trial.

Among the cases is a customs fraud scandal that allegedly sent kickbacks to then President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. They resigned and were jailed to await trial, but more than 100 defense filings have delayed the trial.

Perez Molina and Baldetti, who resigned in 2015, both deny the charges against them.

Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, said Guatemala has made progress on holding officials accountable for abuses of power, but still needs to "move forward and close those circles with trials." "The strategic defense (of those accused) was always to delay the cases," Wilkinson said.

The report notes a pattern in which pretrial proceedings drag on as defense lawyers appeal court decisions and file petitions seeking the recusal of judges.

"The repeated filing of such petitions has brought many key prosecutions to a standstill, and lawyers are not effectively sanctioned even when filing petitions that are manifestly frivolous," Wilkinson said.


Federal disability law requires movie theaters to provide specialized interpreters to patrons who are deaf and blind, an appeals court said Friday.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Cinemark, the nation's third-largest movie chain, in a case involving a Pennsylvania man who wanted to see the 2014 movie "Gone Girl" and asked a Cinemark theater in Pittsburgh to supply a "tactile interpreter." The theater denied his request.

The plaintiff, Paul McGann, is a movie enthusiast who reads American Sign Language through touch. He uses a method of tactile interpretation that involves placing his hands over the hands of an interpreter who uses sign language to describe the movie's action, dialogue and even the audience response.

The federal appeals court concluded Friday that tactile interpreters are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that public accommodations furnish "auxiliary aids and services" to patrons with vision, hearing and speech disabilities.

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