Appeals court changed by Obama is next step for Virginia same-sex marriage case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With Virginia’s gay marriage ban overturned, the legal fight over same-sex unions in that state goes to a court that has shifted to the left since President Barack Obama’s election.

It’s no accident that the state has become a key testing ground for federal judges’ willingness to embrace same-sex marriage after last year’s strongly worded pro-gay rights ruling by the Supreme Court. Judges appointed by Democratic presidents have a 10-5 edge over Republicans on the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, formerly among the nation’s most conservative appeals courts.

Nationally, three other federal appeals courts will soon take up the right of same-sex couples to marry, too, in Ohio, Colorado and California. The San Francisco-based 9th circuit is dominated by judges appointed by Democratic presidents. The Denver-based court, home of the 10th circuit, has shifted from a Republican advantage to an even split between the parties, while the 6th circuit, based in Cincinnati, remains relatively unchanged in favor of Republicans during Obama’s tenure.

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s ruling Thursday, that same-sex couples in Virginia have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals, represented the strongest advance in the South for advocates of gay marriage. She put her own ruling on hold while it is being appealed.

Jon Davidson of the gay rights group Lambda Legal said the "very dramatic" shift in the 4th circuit under Obama was an important reason behind the decision to sue for marriage rights in Virginia, which also twice voted for Obama.

Uganda’s president to sign bill that would allow life sentences for some homosexual acts

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni plans to sign a bill into law that prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said Friday, alarming rights activists who have condemned the bill as draconian in a country where homosexuality already has been criminalized.

Museveni announced his decision to governing party lawmakers, said government spokesman Ofwono Opondo. In Twitter posts on Friday, Opondo said the legislators, who are holding a retreat chaired by Museveni, "welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants."

Museveni’s decision was based on a report by "medical experts" presented at the retreat, saying that "homosexuality is not genetic but a social behavior," said Opondo.

Evelyn Anite, a spokeswoman for the governing party, said the report, which had been requested by the president, was prepared by more than a dozen scientists from Uganda’s Health Ministry.

Opondo and Anite both said the president did not indicate when he will sign the legislation into law.

Princes William, Harry help set sandbags in River Thames village hit by Britain’s floods

LONDON (AP) -- Prince William and Prince Harry helped flood-hit British villagers protect their homes Friday, unloading sandbags alongside soldiers in a River Thames village.

The princes, who have both served in the armed forces, joined a work crew In Datchet, west of London, from about 6 a.m. on what aides said was a private visit.

The princes were not the only royals helping out. Their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has sent feed and bedding from the royal farms at Windsor to farmers whose land has been inundated.

England, which has been lashed by wind and rain since December, had its wettest January since records began in 1766, and the rain has continued this month. Storms this week have brought wind gusts of more than 100 mph .

Floods have drenched the southwestern coast of England, the low-lying Somerset Levels and the Thames Valley west of London, where hundreds of properties have been swamped after the river burst its banks.

Research shows
animal mothers customize milk depending on baby’s sex

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A special blend of mother’s milk just for girls? New research shows animal moms customize their milk in surprising ways depending on whether they have a boy or a girl.

The studies raise questions for human babies, too, about personalizing formula and even about the donor milk that’s used for hospitalized preemies.

Pediatricians have long stressed that breast milk is best for babies. But Harvard University evolutionary biologist Katie Hinde says her research shows it’s a myth that mother’s milk is pretty standard.

She said Friday that monkeys make richer milk for sons but more milk for daughters. The girls’ milk contains more calcium, presumably for their faster-maturing bones. There also are gender differences in how the monkeys respond to a stress hormone in mom’s milk.

Investigation ordered by NFL says 3 engaged in pattern of harassment against Martin

An investigation into the racially charged Miami Dolphins bullying scandal detailed widespread harassment in the team’s locker room that extended beyond the two players at the center of the probe.

The NFL-ordered report stated there was a "pattern of harassment" committed by at least three players and extended to two lineman and an assistant trainer, all targets of vicious taunts and racist insults.

Lawyer Ted Wells released the report Friday, saying guard John Jerry and center Mike Pouncey followed Richie Incognito’s lead in harassing Jonathan Martin, who left the team in October. They threatened to rape his sister, called him a long list of slurs and bullied him for not being "black enough."

In a statement emailed by a league spokesman, the NFL did not make any mention of possible punishment stemming from the case. The league only confirmed it had received the report and said it appreciated the Dolphins’ cooperation with the investigation. Wells said he does not intend to comment further.

Martin is biracial, Incognito is white, and Jerry and Pouncey are black.

Record flight cancellations this winter; storms, cuts, regulations strand passengers

NEW YORK (AP) -- The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the highest number of flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

U.S. airlines have canceled more than 75,000 domestic flights since Dec. 1, including more than 14,000 this week. That’s 5.5 percent of the 1.37 million flights scheduled during that period, according calculations based on information provided by flight tracking site FlightAware.

It’s the highest total number and highest percent of cancellations since at least the winter of 1987-1988, when the Department of Transportation first started collecting cancellation data.

The nation’s air traffic system was still recovering Friday from the latest bout of bad weather. Flights were taking off again but thousands of passengers weren’t.

"This year is off to a brutal start for airlines and travelers," says FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker. "Not only is each storm causing tens of thousands of cancellations, but there’s been a lot of them."

Michigan’s Great Lakes become nearly covered with ice

CHEBOYGAN, Mich. (AP) -- It’s been so bitterly cold for so long that the Great Lakes are almost completely covered with ice for the first time in 20 years.

The last time they came this close was in 1994, when 94 percent of the lakes’ surface was frozen. As of Friday, ice cover extended across 88 percent. That’s according to the federal government’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Sections of the lakes harden almost every winter. But scientists say that over the past four decades, the average ice cover has receded 70 percent, probably in part because of climate change.

The deep freeze is more than a novelty. It may help replenish water levels by limiting evaporation. It also could help sustain some species of wildlife.

Giant, runaway snowball slams into college dorm Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Two math majors at Reed College lost control of a massive snowball that rolled into a dorm, knocking in part of a bedroom wall.

There were no injuries, but college spokesman Kevin Myers said Friday it will cost $2,000 to $3,000 to repair the building.

The incident happened last Saturday night following a rare trio of snowstorms in Portland.

Students started building the giant snowball on a campus quad near the dorm. Urged by a crowd, the math majors tried to make the snowball as big as possible by rolling it down the sidewalk that goes past the dorm.

"And the ball just got away from them," Myers said.