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California Ruling Opens New Front in Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage

A ban is overturned in the nation's largest state. Also, in another civil rights case, a federal court rules that America's paper money discriminates against the blind. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Two recent court rulings in the United States could have national effects on civil rights issues.

Last week the California Supreme Court rejected that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. A four-to-three majority ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the California Constitution.

Couples from anywhere in the country could get married in the nation's largest state as early as the middle of June. In most cases, however, their marriage would not be recognized back home. The only state where homosexuals can now marry is Massachusetts, and they have to be living there.

Californians will likely vote in November on a proposal to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Conservative groups want the court to delay its decision until after the elections.

Douglas Kmiec is a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He predicts that courts in other states will now be faced with similar questions. The issue could end up before the United States Supreme Court.

It could also enter into the presidential campaign. The major candidates -- Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain -- are all against same-sex marriage. But senators Obama and Clinton support civil unions.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain.

The second ruling came this week from a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. It found that America's paper money discriminates against blind people. Bills of different dollar amounts all have the same size and feel, so there is no way to tell them apart by touch.

A panel of three judges voted two-to-one that the government must do something to change its bills. The court agreed with a lower court judge who ruled in two thousand six that redesigning paper money would not be too costly.

The government says it would be. Millions of machines that accept bills would also have to change.

Yet that lower court judge said the United States was the only country to print bills all the same size and color.

More than one million Americans are blind. Millions more have limited vision.

The American Council of the Blind brought the case in two thousand two to seek bills of different sizes or with raised marks.

Many blind people welcomed this week's ruling, but not all. The National Federation of the Blind says it could strengthen misbeliefs about blind people being helpless. It says there are greater needs, like more Braille education and job training.

The government could now ask for a hearing by the full thirteen-member court, which includes a blind judge. Or it could appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Treasury Department says it is exploring ways to help people who are blind or have limited vision. A five-dollar bill released earlier this year has an extra large numeral five on it.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.