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News Wrap: Holder says state attorney generals aren’t obliged to enforce gay marriage bans

February 25, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: A political firestorm in one state, a major court fight in another and strong words from the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, it all served today to highlight the shifting political and legal landscape on gay rights.

The shift was evident this morning, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told his state counterparts they are not obliged to defend bans on gay marriage.

ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: Any decisions at any level not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare. But, in general, I believe that we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.

And we must endeavor in all of our efforts to uphold and advance the values that once led our forbearers to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex unions. And a trial opened in Detroit today on a challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Arizona lawmakers have triggered a storm by passing Senate Bill 1062, allowing business owners to deny service to gays on religious grounds. For instance, wedding photographers could refuse to work at a same-sex wedding if it goes against their faith. Supporters insist it’s not about being anti-gay, but pro-religious freedom.

MAIA ARNESON, Christian Business Networking: I think there’s a lot of spotlight on it being an issue of gay and Christian. And that’s not the case. It’s really a case of defending all people. This isn’t an issue of discrimination. This is an issue of having people’s values respected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the bill has sparked protests in Phoenix and elsewhere by gay rights advocates, who say it’s discrimination, pure and simple. Business groups warn the furor is taking a toll on tourism. Ben Bethel says he’s getting cancellations at his hotel and spa in Phoenix.

BEN BETHEL, Owner, Clarendon Hotel and Spa: It’s causing a lot of damage to Arizona already, because anything that Arizona does that is bad for Arizona only strengthens other cities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As the pressure builds, three Republican state senators who voted for the bill last week have changed their minds.

One of them, Bob Worsley, told the Associated Press: “I wasn’t comfortable with the vote. I feel very bad, and it was a mistake.”

Had the three Republicans voted no last week, the measure wouldn’t have passed. In tweets, Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have criticized the vote, and called for Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. She has until Saturday to act. If she signs the bill, Arizona would become the first state to have such a law.

In Uganda today, a tabloid newspaper printed a list of what it called the country’s top 200 homosexuals. It came a day after the president signed a harsh anti-gay law. At newsstands around the capital of Kampala, people stopped to read the story and look at photos of some of those named. The list included gay rights activists who said they now fear for their safety.

PEPE JULIAN ONZIEMA, Ugandan activist: Two boys walking together, we don’t even know if they are a couple, but just two men walking together being attacked and one killed this morning is — makes me think more about my own security. How am I going to be able to keep speaking out?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Uganda’s president has rejected international condemnation of the new law and accused the West of promoting homosexuality in Africa.

In Nigeria, Islamist extremists staged a bloody new assault today, murdering at least 58 students at a government school. The militants set a locked dormitory ablaze, shooting and stabbing all who tried to escape. Others were burned alive. We will take a closer look at the worsening situation in Nigeria later in the program.

Lawmakers in Ukraine have put off forming a new government until Thursday, amid ongoing political tensions. They also voted today to send ousted President Viktor Yanukovych to the International Criminal Court, if he’s ever caught.

Meanwhile, his temporary successor voiced concerns about — quote — “signs of separatism” in the mainly Russian-speaking republic of Crimea.

James Mates of Independent Television News is in Crimea with this report.

JAMES MATES: If Ukraine’s new leaders are worried about their country splitting in two, nowhere is that danger greater than in its southernmost territory, the Crimea.

The flags you see at demonstrations here are Russian, the demands, stop what is happening in Kiev. “Russia, Russia,” they shout, and demand a referendum on rejoining what they call the motherland.

MAN: Crimea and Russia is one. It’s one nation.

JAMES MATES: Are you Russian or Ukrainian?

MAN: In passport — my passport is Ukrainian, but I am Russian.

JAMES MATES: It is in this atmosphere that the new acting president of Ukraine told parliament today he was heading to a Security Council meeting to address the potential splintering of his country.

The Crimean city of Sevastopol will have been top of his list of concerns. This man is the new mayor here, not elected, but imposed by a crowd of 15,000 two days ago. His supporters now gather here every day, their message: If Kiev can overthrow a president, we can overthrow a man.

In this town, there is no question of Russia moving in. The Russians are already here. Their Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol. It is widely believed that deposed President Yanukovych is hiding somewhere in this base right now.

There is no clearer indication of just how well -established the Russians are in Crimea than this, the headquarters and command of the Russian Black Sea fleet, right in the middle of Sevastopol, Russian officers and men coming and going as if it was their own territory.

Neither they nor the occasional armored vehicle are the makings of a Russian takeover, and Moscow insisted today it won’t interfere. But the skyline here is dominated by Lenin and the dome of a Russian orthodox cathedral. Its loyalties are not to Ukraine, and the leaders in Kiev know it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia conquered Crimea in the 18th century, but, in 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the region to Ukraine. Since the Soviet breakup in 1991, Crimea has been part of an independent Ukraine.

The prime minister of Turkey is accusing his political rivals of launching a — quote — “treacherous attack” on him, as he becomes the center of a corruption scandal. Audio recordings released overnight appeared to show Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash before police raids.

Today, Erdogan told parliament the recordings are fabricated.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister, Turkey (through interpreter): There aren’t any allegations that I cannot answer. But neither members of A.K. Party nor I will be lured by their traps to change the agenda and we will not surrender to this game. If we surrender to them and deal with their shameless montage and shameless traps, we cannot find time to serve our people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Opposition parties insisted the recordings are genuine. They demanded Erdogan resign.

A thick veil of smog blanketed China’s capital for a sixth straight day. The World Health Organization called it a crisis, as people wore masks to try to keep from breathing in the polluted air. Chinese president Xi Jinping braved the smog, as seen in this mobile phone video. He took a rare unannounced walk in a Beijing alleyway, greeting residents.

Japan may restart some of the nuclear reactors that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster almost three years ago. A draft energy policy, presented to the cabinet, made that recommendation today. The reactors would have to meet new standards that were set after a tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima plant in March of 2011. All of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors have been offline since then.

One of the world’s top exchanges for the digital currency Bitcoin has gone offline, amid reports of catastrophic losses. The Web site for Mt. Gox was blank today, and leaked documents showed losses roughly equal to $350 million.

Bitcoin trader Kolin Burgess, of Britain, protested outside the exchange’s headquarters in Tokyo.

KOLIN BURGESS, Mt. Gox User: I am both annoyed and worried. It seems that I have lost all of my money, and I’m annoyed that the company has been stringing people along for so long, claiming that everything has been OK. Luckily, most people didn’t believe them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Leading proponents of Bitcoin argued the collapse of Mt. Gox is an isolated case of mismanagement.

Combat jobs will soon open to women in the U.S. Army, but only a few say they want those positions. The Associated Press reports that finding comes from an Army survey of some 30,000 women in the ranks. Only 7.5 percent responded that they want a combat job. The military faces a January 2016 deadline to open infantry, armor, artillery, and combat engineer slots to women.

There was hopeful news today on childhood obesity in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It reported the problem among preschoolers has fallen more than 40 percent in the past decade. Health officials regard obesity as a national epidemic. Young children who are substantially overweight are five times more likely to be heavy as adults.

In economic news, home prices fell in December for the second straight month. The dip in the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index partly reflects the effects of winter storms.

And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 27 points to close at 16,179. The Nasdaq fell five points to close at 4,287. And the S&P 500 was down two points to close at 1,845.