Archive For September 2, 2015

No Cause For Murder Charges In Arafat's Death, French Investigators Say

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More than two years after accusations arose that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s 2004 death was the result of polonium-210 poisoning, French judges say there isn’t enough evidence to support the claim that Arafat was murdered.

“At the end of the investigation … it has not been demonstrated that Mr Yasser Arafat was murdered by polonium-210 poisoning,” the judges said, according to France 24.

When Arafat died in France in November 2004, doctors said he had suffered a stroke. But his widow, Suha, did not agree. And in 2012, she filed a murder case, after traces of polonium-210 were found on Arafat’s belongings.

Arafat’s burial site was then opened, to allow investigators to test samples from his body. And in November 2013, “the Swiss team that tested Arafat’s remains said they found evidence to “moderately support” the polonium-210 theory, as the Two-Way reported.

Polonium-210 is a reactive element that became well-known after it was blamed in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who criticized Russia and who died in London in 2006.

As poison expert Deborah Blum told NPR back in 2012, the evidence in the Arafat case is complicated by the fact that the former Palestinian leader was a heavy smoker.

“Cigarette smoke is quite remarkably loaded with polonium-210,” Blum said, describing a situation that stems from fertilizers used to grow tobacco.

Blum also said:

“But the primary way that you gather it in a lethal amount is in the byproduct of nuclear weapons processing or nuclear reactor weapons-grade processing. So there are very few countries, if you were going to kill someone with polonium-210, that have the ability to do that. And the short list, frankly, is Russia, United States and Israel.”

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Catch up on last week’s top news

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Check out some of our top stories from last week in the news. 1. Oklahoma football: Baker Mayfield named starting quarterback Oklahoma confirms Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback for the Sept. 5 season opener against Akron. 2. New policy affirms all genders The language of OU’s Equal Opportunity Statement has changed to include the terms…

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Here's What We Know About The Ky. Clerk Refusing Gay Marriage Licenses

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Here's What We Know About The Ky. Clerk Refusing Gay Marriage Licenses
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky. Timothy D. Easley/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Timothy D. Easley/AP

Defying court decisions that go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kim Davis, the Rowan County (Ky.) Clerk, continued to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday.

As Kentucky Public Radio’s Ryland Barton reports, Davis, who has become a divisive figure in the national debate on gay marriage, has been summoned to a federal court on Thursday for a hearing on whether to hold her in contempt.

With that, here’s what we know about Davis:

She’s A Born-Again Christian: The Associated Press reports that Davis’ life changed in a church about four years ago.

The preacher, the AP reports, was speaking about the book of Galatians, and Davis repented for her sins and “pledged the rest of her life to the service of the Lord.”

In a statement, Davis explained that she decided to go to church that day to honor the dying wish of her mother-in-law.

“There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ,” she said. “I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”

— She Has Cited Her Religious Views For Her Stance: Davis has said her religious beliefs have driven her to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.

In court, she testified that she prayed and fasted before making the decision to defy the highest court of the land.

“It wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision,” she testified, according to the Courier-Journal. “It was thought out, and I sought God on it.”

The paper reports:

“On the stand… Davis described herself as an Apostolic Christian who believes marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman under the Bible — ‘God’s holy word’ — and said she contemplated her policy for months beforehand.

“She choked back tears at times as she argued that issuing licenses under her name would violate her religious beliefs, even if a deputy clerk performs the task in her stead.

“‘If I say they are authorized, I’m saying I agree with it, and I can’t,’ Davis said.”

Davis Has Been Divorced Three Times: According to marriage licenses obtained by Buzzfeed, Davis has been married four times — twice to the same man.

She first married at age 18 in 1984. She later married Joe Davis in 1996. She married a third time in 2007 and then married Davis again in 2009.

Her marriage record has been used by critics to point out what they see as Davis’ hypocrisy. During a tense standoff with a gay couple on Tuesday, one man pointedly asked her what was the longest she had been with one partner.

In response, Davis’ attorney said that she acknowledged she had made “major mistakes” in the past.

“She’s regretful and sorrowful,” her attorney Mat Staver said, according to the AP. “That life she led before is not the life she lives now. She asked for and received forgiveness and grace. That’s why she has such a strong conscience.”

— She Was Elected To Her Position: Davis, a Democrat, won a 2014 election for Rowan County Clerk handily — 53 percent to 46 percent.

Davis took the keys of the office from her mother Jean Bailey, who held the position for 37 years.

The night Davis won, she gave an interview to the Morehead News.

“My words can never express the appreciation but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter,” Davis said.

— She Can’t Be Fired: Because Davis is an elected official, and as the Kentucky Supreme Court puts it, “ultimately accountable to the voters,” she can’t be fired from her job.

According to procedures set forth by the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the only way for Davis to be removed from her position is if the Circuit Court Clerks Conduct Commission recommends that course of action to the chief justice and the chief justice agrees.

The process is complicated and would likely take a long time.

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Why Are Migrants Surging Into Europe Now?

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Why Are Migrants Surging Into Europe Now?
A Norwegian police officer on the bridge of the Siem Pilot ship watches over migrants rescued in the Mediterranean sea on their way to the Italian port of Cagliari on Sept. 2. Hundreds of migrants were rescued a day earlier.

A Norwegian police officer on the bridge of the Siem Pilot ship watches over migrants rescued in the Mediterranean sea on their way to the Italian port of Cagliari on Sept. 2. Hundreds of migrants were rescued a day earlier. Gregorio Borgia/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Gregorio Borgia/AP

The United Nations says more than 300,000 migrants have set out from North Africa and the Middle on the Mediterranean Sea for Europe this year so far – 40 percent more than all of last year.

On any given day now, hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, are drifting in ships or clinging to boats that are little more than inflatable rafts. They go in other ways, too. Jumping fences in Morocco to get to Spanish territory. Cramming into trucks from Turkey. Riding trains across Europe.

In a recent 24-hour period, the Greek coast guard rescued a thousand people in the Aegean Sea.

They are children and old people. Middle-aged parents with their last possessions and their kids on their backs. They’re professionals who have left their jobs and homes behind, and laborers whose neighborhoods and industries have collapsed in wars.

Most are technically refugees — defined as people fleeing war or persecution.

Here’s a primer on the recent surge.

What’s behind this crisis?

If you want one number to explain the mass movement today, start with 60 million. The U.N. says there are 60 million people displaced worldwide — the most since the U.N. started keeping records and the most since WWII.

The U.N. counts 15 new conflicts in the last five years and the big one is Syria. More than 11 million Syrians have have fled or been driven from their homes in that country’s civil war since it started in 2011.

Then there’s the Islamic State surge in Iraq, where 3 million people have been displaced since January, 2014.

Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and other countries are wracked by war or insurgency. Many are also fleeing Eritrea, a country that’s not at war but which is run by a repressive regime.

Some settle in new countries or find new places even in their own countries. But many can’t do either. Turkey and Lebanon, for example, have taken in around 3 million Syrian refugees between them. But both have restrictive laws keeping the refugees from earning a living. So many are on the move.

Why are they going to Europe?

Europe is the closest wealthy and safe area to the Mideast and Africa. In some places, it’s very close. Some Greek islands with tourist beaches that have become landing zones for migrant boats are just a few miles from the Turkish coast. More than 230,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year and about 100,000 in Italy.

Also, some European countries are known for welcoming asylum seekers and providing benefits to help them get started in their new homes. But those countries are mostly in northern or western Europe. Migrants might arrive in Europe first in Greece but after living on the streets or temporary shelter there they head to more prosperous countries, particularly Germany.

Syrian migrants in an overcrowded dinghy from Turkey arrive on the Greek island of Kos on Aug. 29.

Syrian migrants in an overcrowded dinghy from Turkey arrive on the Greek island of Kos on Aug. 29. Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

How risky is the journey?

The U.N. says 2,500 people have died on the seas so far this year. Many routes are perilous even before the sea crossing. They can include walks over long stretches of desert or abuse from authorities and criminals along the way.

The routes to Europe are set out largely by smugglers who summon the migrants to travel with last minute phone calls. They usually collect the money upfront and show little concern for what happens next. Smugglers have left ships with hundreds of migrants on board to drift without a crew. They’ve locked migrants in the hulls of sinking ships, and recently, 70 migrants suffocated in a truck on an Austrian roadside.

How is Europe and the international community responding?

European governments blame smugglers for the dangers but migrant advocates say that as long as there are few legal routes toward safety, refugees will continue to risk dangerous illegal routes.

There’s a patchwork laws governing immigration and rescue procedures that make things more risky. For a while, migrants were told that they had a better chance at asylum if they were rescued at sea – so they purposely sank their vessels, gambling with their lives that European coast guard ships would find them.

European countries disagree about how to handle the crisis. Southern countries like Greece and Italy want other countries to take them in. European Union rules say migrants should be settled where they first land, but now enforcement of those rules is becoming impossible.

Some European countries have been opening their doors. Sweden has a history for welcoming migrants. German officials say they will receive 800,000 or more of the current wave, far more than any other European country.

Countries further away have taken in very few migrants. The U.S. has taken in 1,500 Syrians since the start of the civil war and promises to accept up to 8,000 more next year.

If the goal is to stop the migration, that would require ending the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Almost all refugees say they would go home if they could.

Larry Kaplow is NPR’s Middle East editor. Follow him at @larrykaplow.

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Desert Music: Burning Man Confronts The Rising Beat

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Desert Music: Burning Man Confronts The Rising Beat
Revelers take in the Robot Heart art-car sound system at the 2014 Burning Man festival.

Revelers take in the Robot Heart art-car sound system at the 2014 Burning Man festival. Ellie Pritts hide caption

itoggle caption Ellie Pritts

Noise complaints are not an issue you would expect to associate with Burning Man, the week-long, outsider arts festival that takes place in Nevada’s remote Black Rock Desert. But that is exactly what happened after the event’s namesake ritual on the last Saturday in August of 2014, the 28th version of Burning Man. The symbolic torching of an oversized effigy designed by festival co-founder Larry Harvey is the culmination of the gathering for many of the 65,000+ freaks, geeks and free-spirited revelers for whom the festival has become a global destination. It is a bacchanalian end-zone dance full of banging beats and fireworks, which continues well past the break of dawn, celebrating the survival of what can be a grueling existential slog in the elements. But last year, the evening’s Dionysian abandon left detractors in its aftermath, incensed with the volume and vibe of the party. The criticisms not only raised questions about music’s place at Burning Man, it also drew lines in the meaning of the event’s “radical self-expression” ethos.

“We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach,” went a post on the official Burning Man blog the following day. “But it doesn’t work on the playa. At all. We admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, ‘If it’s too loud, you’re too old,’ and maybe that’s true.” The pounding rhythms of dance music united under the EDM banner, it seems, have the power of turning cultural progressives a little bit more conservative.

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Burning Man’s generational divide is playing out largely via its soundtrack. In preparation for the 2015 version of the event, which kicked off Monday, Aug. 31, festival organizers issued a number of reactive policies attempting to reign in certain elements of its dance music scene. When taken in aggregate, these changes lead some to conclude the festival harbors an institutionalized bias against DJs and their desert-rocking beats. An official statement released in late July entitled “What’s Actually Going On with Dance Music at Burning Man,” felt the need to clarify that “there is no grand conspiracy to ban, marginalize or sideline EDM at Burning Man.”

This year, the release explained, the larger art cars (creatively-festooned vehicles tricked out with massive soundsystems which power many of Burning Man’s dance parties) would be classified as having “Large Dance Club, Arena, Stadium sound,” and limited to a new “Deep-Playa Music Zone” (already dubbed the DMZ by the burners). The release also defended various music-related decisions, including forbidding camps who present DJs from pre-publishing their music line-ups and denying the Dancetronauts camp’s art-car license for their alleged role in not abiding by the sound rules at last year’s burn. It also gave reasons why the famed, music-minded Opulent Temple camp­ (founded in 2003) lost its prime placement.

This year’s Burning Man remains an endless array of creative thought, art installations and open-minded self-registered events — everything from a Beekeepers Summit, a Female Ejaculation Workshop and a lecture by the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Gilmore to the Warm Celestial Hug Center, a Magic Pancake Workshop and a Spank Bank. (Draw your own conclusions!)

And it still feels like everyone on the playa, the adapted name for Black Rock’s 200-square mile flat, is a DJ. While the vast majority is relatively unknown, the festival has hosted its share of high-profile DJs, many of them by the currently-out-of-favor Opulent Temple. Old-school international superstars such as Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold, EDM-era descendants like Bassnectar, Skrillex and Diplo, longtime break-beat regulars such as FreQ Nasty and Stanton Warriors, well-respected dance music veterans François Kevorkian, Carl Cox and Marques Wyatt are among the many DJs who’ve graced the desert decks.

Through the years, it has been a place for many music-altering perspectives. Wyatt is an Angeleno bitten by the New York house music bug in the 1980s. He says, “When I first went nine years ago, Burning Man opened me up to different sounds.” Not only does he still perform at a variety of camps, as well as at his own Ashram Galactica site, Wyatt says he tailors his sets accordingly. “When I’m playing Distrikt I like to play tracks with lots of energy and when I’m playing something smaller like Pink Mammoth I’ll play deeper cuts.”

Such modern manifestations are a dramatically long way from Burning Man’s humble, near-mythical 1986 origins. Twenty-nine years ago on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, Larry Harvey and Jerry James threw a solstice party with the symbolic burn of a relatively diminutive eight-foot human effigy made of scrap lumber. According to a speech Harvey delivered in 1997 recounting the fest’s inception, music was initially an unplanned presence, from the moment the flaming figure illuminated the Bay Area sky.

A DigitalGlobe satellite image shows an overview of the Burning Man festival in 2013.

A DigitalGlobe satellite image shows an overview of the Burning Man festival in 2013. DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d/Getty Images

“Suddenly our numbers tripled,” Harvey said of the first burn, which attracted only 35 people. “I looked out at this arc of fire-lit faces, and before I knew it there was a hippie with his pants on his head and a guitar standing there. And he started singing a song about fire. Now I’m not exactly a hootenanny kind of guy, but it seemed like the thing to do.”

The art festival moved from San Francisco to the Nevada desert in 1990. And the first music-oriented camp, strongly influenced by the San Francisco rave scene, took place in 1992 and was held roughly a mile away from Burning Man’s main plaza. The music area became known as the “Techno Ghetto” and its first DJ, according to an informative history on the site, was Terbo Ted, who dropped Burning Man’s first record: a random Jean-Michel Jarre 12″ pulled off a pile of rave organizer Craig Ellenwood’s stack of vinyl. (Vinyl, it should be noted, is now rarely used with LP- and CD-player-destroying desert dust abounding; today, USB sticks and controllers are a DJ’s elements-proof weapons of choice.)

“The music I mostly heard then wasn’t dance music, it was mostly rock and roll, a little metal music and kind of cool, jazzy music depending on which camp you walked up to,” says Marian Goodell, CEO of Burning Man Project, the non-profit organization with a $34 million dollar budget and 70 employees that oversees the event, who first arrived at the playa in 1995.

The “Techno Ghetto” remained on the outskirts until 1996 — when a vehicle tragically ran over a tent causing severe injury. The following year saw the introduction of the generically named Community Dance, as music became more integrated into the main Burning Man camp, though sound camps would be relegated to specific zones — the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions on the playa map (Burning Man is set up as a semi-circle with the positions of the clock as guides), with speakers facing outwards toward the distant desert. This restrictive placement, in turn, led to the rise of increasingly larger and louder art cars, whose meanderings will be more controlled this year.

Still, given the sheer number of musical performances that have popped over the years, it is perplexing that Burning Man subsists without an official music guide. And with a preponderance of one kind of sound in modern dance music, it is even more surprising the organizers haven’t instituted a more proactive strategy toward encouraging diverse musical experiences. But that lack of strategy, it turns out, is by design.

“There is no committee. There are no meetings about music, just as there’s none about performance either, which is a huge part of what Burning Man is about,” says Goodell. “To me it all fits under the category of celebration and self-expression.”

“Burning Man’s actually gotten more musically eclectic over the years,” argues DJ $mall ¢hange (a.k.a. Jim Dier) who has DJ’d there since 1999 and who works for the festival’s BMIR pop-up radio station. “There’s definitely certain things lacking, like punk rock, and the live music is kind of whatever.” Yet Dier echoes a mantra you hear oft-repeated: “They don’t curate the music at all. Burning Man wants to be viewed as more of an arts festival so that’s where they put the grant money.”

In other words, no one wants it to become Coachella, Glastonbury or the Electric Daisy Carnival. “If Daft Punk were playing at Burning Man,” Goddell argues, “there’d be people scrambling for $2,000 tickets and we don’t want that.”

If grousing about music flies in the face of Burning Man’s more enlightened ideals and somewhat contradicts its often-cited ten basic principles, the overwhelming sentiment about the event expressed by attending DJs, organizers and burners alike, is that it remains an inspiring platform for profound experiences.

“It is nothing short of breathtaking,” says François K (for Kevorkian), the esteemed New York City-based DJ and producer whose first burn came only five years ago. “It has allowed me to express my creativity in ways I didn’t know were inside me.” Burning Man inspired Francois to design and build a surround sound system for his Disorient sound camp after his first year, which has in turn inspired his music perspective.

“Four years ago I decided to play a surround-sound mix of Dark Side of the Moon at three in the morning,” he recounts. “It was a very small thing but I really live for those moments when you are able to take people off balance and present something that from the looks of it is rather innocuous. But by the time they realize they are getting drawn into it, they are already part of it and they can’t get back to where they were before.”

The Robot Heart car illuminates the darkened playa at the 2014 festival.

The Robot Heart car illuminates the darkened playa at the 2014 festival. Ellie Pritts hide caption

itoggle caption Ellie Pritts

All good DJs know that understanding your audience and the context is part of the gig — maybe even more so on the playa. One of $mall ¢hange’s favorite Burning Man moments came spinning the wee hours at the Disorient camp. “I played post-punk, weird disco, hip-hop, jungle, all kinds of stuff,” he recalls. “And at one point a guy dressed up in a pretty full-on Pope outfit walked in. I was like, ‘Wait, I have the exact record for this moment, Beenie Man’s ‘Praise Him,’ this gospel dancehall record which starts off with this vocal part, ‘praise him, praise him, praise him.’ So the a cappella part starts and then the Pope gestured to me like we planned this and of course everyone is bowing down to the Pope.”

But not everyone recognizes the need to understand the musical context. Last year an art-car-cum-dance-music-camp called Robot Heart became notorious for what may very well have been an apocryphal event, when Skrillex and Diplo ended their tag-teaming Jack Ü DJ set with a mainstream pop-rap track (“Turn Down the for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon), allegedly eliciting boos from the audience. In true Internet style, the incident became viral fodder that transcended truth while playing into popular perceptions of what is “wrong with Burning Man” (which may not be much of anything). Though Diplo disputed the report in subsequent Twitter posts, it played into the fears of many longtime Burners and the stereotypes non-attendees foist upon the gathering.

But will new rules make Burning Man “right” again or is this just par for the historically checkered burner-raver course?

“Personally I find it kind of absurd that you would create a zone for something because it kind of defeats the whole purpose of what Burning Man is about,” says Jason Swamy, a DJ who works with Robot Heart, about the DMZ. (Swamy repeatedly emphasized he does not speak for or represent Robot Heart). Though he spoke of the messy “cacophony” that grouping multiple soundsystems together would create, he was more concerned with the philosophical restraints he sees in the new policy. “I think creating a destination for a particular type of music and having everyone go there kind of puts people in a box. And the whole reason why we’re going to Burning Man is to not be in a box. I don’t completely know how it will affect it, but we’ll know soon.”

And then undoubtedly the playa’s music and art communities will have something to say about it.

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Apple To Produce Films, TV Series – Source

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In March, Morning News USA reported that Apple is on its way to introducing its own skinny TV bundle. The company is said to be in talks with 25 TV networks that include ABC, CBS and FOX among others. In April, Morning News USA also reported that Apple and Disney had an argument as to…

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Kentucky Marriage License Dispute 'Up To Courts,' Governor Says

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Kentucky Marriage License Dispute 'Up To Courts,' Governor Says
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, will appear in court Thursday to answer a motion to hold her in contempt, after her office again refused to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, will appear in court Thursday to answer a motion to hold her in contempt, after her office again refused to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky. Timothy D. Easley/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Timothy D. Easley/AP

Kentucky’s Gov. Steve Beshear says he’s powerless to stop Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples – something she has done for consecutive days, flouting rulings from federal courts that include the Supreme Court and prompting a motion to hold her in contempt of court.

“I have no legal authority to relieve her of her statutory duty by executive order or to remove her from office,” Beshear says, issuing a statement in which he also says he won’t call a special session to give the state legislature a chance to rewrite Kentucky’s statute about county clerks’ power.

As Eyder noted for the Two-Way this morning, when Davis was asked by gay-marriage advocates today under what authority was she allowed to refuse a request for a marriage license, she replied, “under God’s authority.”

In the latest legal development, plaintiff April Miller, who along with Karen Roberts was denied a marriage license Tuesday morning, filed a motion in district court to hold Davis in contempt. The motion, which the ACLU of Kentucky filed on Miller’s behalf, calls for Judge David L. Bunning “to impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous to compel Davis’ immediate compliance without further delay.”

The plaintiffs do not want Davis jailed, the motion says.

“She was ordered back to court on Thursday, to determine whether she will be held in contempt for her actions,” Kentucky Public Radio’s Ryland Barton reports for All Things Considered.

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Davis issued her own statement Tuesday — here’s a section, from member station WFPL:

“I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will.”

Acknowledging that there are “obviously strong feelings on both sides of this issue,” Gov. Beshear says, “the United States Supreme Court has spoken and same-sex marriage is now legal in Kentucky and the rest of the United States.”

But he adds that Kentucky’s legislature “has placed the authority to issue marriage licenses squarely on county clerks by statute,” leaving the governor’s office with no power in the matter.

After the Supreme Court ruled this summer that gay couples have the right to marry, Davis repeatedly filed for a stay that would allow her to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But with each filing, she was turned away by federal district and appeals courts – including, on Monday, by the Supreme Court.

“The future of the Rowan County Clerk is now in the hands of the courts,” Beshear said Tuesday. Explaining his decision not to call a special session, the governor added:

“The General Assembly will convene in four months and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time. I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session of the General Assembly when 117 of 120 county clerks are doing their jobs.”

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