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Former Republican candidate for Lt. Gov. E.W. Jackson, front center, speaks to the media during a demonstration outside Federal Court in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Jackson spoke in favor of the law banning same sex marriage.

By Elizabeth Chuck and Miranda Leitsinger, NBC News

A federal judge hearing arguments Tuesday on whether Virginia’s ban on gay marriage should be struck down told the parties she’d rule quickly in a case that could have repercussions for marriage equality throughout the South.

At the end of the nearly two-hour-long hearing, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen said: “You’ll be hearing from me soon.”

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, who won the battle to overturn California’s Proposition 8 and the ban on gay marriage in that state.

Both sides have asked the judge to rule without going to a full trial, said Olson, who expects the case to soon move onto the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers five states. If she rules for the plaintiffs, Virginia’s solicitor general has requested that a temporary stay be issued on same-sex marriages, as an Oklahoma judge did recently in knocking down that state’s ban.

“The constitutional rights of citizens are being denied that causes irreparable injury to them and their families every single moment of their lives,” Olson said. “What the courts owe all of these citizens is to deal with these issues promptly and expeditiously.” 

If the ban is deemed unconstitutional, Virginia will become the first state in the old Confederacy to allow gay marriage. Currently, Washington, D.C., and 17 states, mostly in the Northeast, allow gay marriage. 

Last month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would go head-to-head with the state on the issue of gay marriage, and would not defend the 2006 voter-approved ban. That decision from the newly elected Democratic attorney general infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who accused Herring of failing to live up to his duty to defend state laws. But Herring’s office stuck with the plaintiffs in the case: Norfolk, Va., couple Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who were denied a marriage license by the Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1.

“There have been times when brave citizens have led the fight for civil rights while their state stood against them,” Herring said after the hearing, referring to cases such as Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court ended the ban on interracial marriage in 1968. “Virginia has too often found itself on the wrong side of landmark civil rights cases. The injustice of Virginia’s position in those cases will not be repeated this time.”

Olson on Tuesday called Herring’s decision not to defend the ban “courageous.”

Protesters and gay-marriage supporters alike gathered at the Norfolk courthouse before the hearing on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported. Protesters carried signs that read, “Herring’s herring. AG’s must uphold the law,” while supporters of the plaintiffs held ones that said “Marry who you love.” 

Herring attended the hearing, although Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael argued in court on behalf of the state.

In their lawsuit, Bostic and London argue that the state law denied them liberties that are guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Chesterfield County couple Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who were married in California in 2008, later joined the case.

“We had many moments in court where we were nearly in tears hearing about how these learned men understand what it is that we go through,” Schall said. “We’re just moved, humbled and grateful for all that we’ve gotten.”

The lawsuit was filed just before the Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that blocked gay couples from accessing more than 1,100 benefits that married couples are entitled to.

Nationwide, supporters of the right of gays and lesbians to wed have filed 35 lawsuits in 19 states targeting state-level marriage bans, mostly after the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.

The Virginia case is likely to move through the legal system quickly, a draw for the two attorneys for the plaintiffs, who hope to again make a case before the high court, The Washington Post reported.

A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 50 percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage, and 43 percent oppose it.

The hearing comes one month after the Supreme Court ordered a stay on gay marriage in Utah ahead of an upcoming court challenge in a federal appeals court. 

Though more than 30 state marriage bans remain on the books nationwide, gay marriage supporters saw 2013 as a watershed year: If the Utah ruling stands, the number of states that allow gays and lesbians to wed will be 18, up from nine states, plus the District of Columbia last January. Popular support has grown for same-sex marriage nationally, with 54 percent of Americans supporting it in a July 2013 Gallup poll.

Are you a same-sex couple in the South? Want to share your thoughts on this lawsuit or on living in a state where same-sex marriage is banned? Contact reporter Miranda Leitsinger at miranda.leitsinger@nbcuni.com

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Hillary Clinton: ‘fun to watch FOX when it’s someone else being blitzed’

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Jason Decrow / AP

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is interviewed during a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Dec. 4, 2013, in New York.

Step aside, Jon Stewart. There’s a new political satirist in town.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and a potential Democratic presidential candidate, took an apparent shot at Fox News during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The tweet, which had been retweeted more than 30,000 times by the start of the game’s fourth quarter, was apparently a reference to the cable news channel’s coverage, which has been highly critical of Democrats and the September 2012 terror attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton has come under fire for the State Department response to the attack.

The Fox broadcast network — which aired the Super Bowl — and the Fox News Channel are both owned by the Fox Entertainment Group subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, a division of News Corp.



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Racial discrimination in teen years could mean health problems later

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Racial discrimination isn’t just a civil rights issue — it can also affect teenagers’ health, a new study suggests.

Adolescents who experienced frequent racial discrimination without emotional support from parents and peers had higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones at age 20, placing them at greater risk for chronic disease as they get older.

While other studies have looked at perceived racial discrimination and health among adults, this study, published Monday in the journal Child Development, is the first of its type to track the effects in youth. The good news: Teens who did receive emotional support didn’t show the biological effects of racial discrimination.

Researchers wanted to look at the relationship between racial discrimination and what scientists call allostatic load, basically the “wear and tear” on the body over time caused by frequent and repeated stressors. Frequent activation of the body’s stress response causes a cascade of problems including high blood pressure, cardiac disease, stroke and increases in the body’s inflammatory response. The researchers also wanted to determine whether parental and peer support would help mediate that stress, leading to potentially better health outcomes. 

The study involved 331 African Americans, all of whom lived in the rural South, who were asked to rate the frequency of perceived discrimination at ages 16, 17 and 18. These discriminatory events included racially based slurs and insults, disrespectful treatment from community members, physical threats, and false accusations from business employees or law enforcement officials.

When the adolescents turned 18, the youths were asked to assess their peer emotional support during these years. Caregivers, too, were surveyed regarding the emotional support they provided, with questions including “If my child talks to me I have suggestions about how to handle problems,” and “If my child needs help with school or work, she/he can ask me about it.”

Blood pressure, body mass and stress-related hormones were assessed when youths turned 20. The researchers controlled for variables including low economic status, depression, or unhealthy behaviors such as drug use, for example, all of which can affect health.

Although many African Americans, as well as other minorities, experience discrimination as a stressor, only a small percentage show increases in the biological havoc that stress can cause.

“People ask why is that, and one reason we’ve shown is that it’s due to emotional support, which is important at all times in life, but especially during adolescence,’ says lead investigator Gene Brody, Regents Professor and Director of the Center for Family Research at University of Georgia. “These kinds of relationships can be a protective barrier from stress-changing biology.”

In recent years, racial discrimination as a stressor affecting biology has been the subject of numerous studies, mostly involving adults, says David Williams, a professor of public health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Other research has shown that racial discrimination and resulting health problems are a global phenomenon.

“It is not just an African-American problem, it is a universal problem, affecting the health of disadvantaged populations across the world,” adds Williams, the developer of “The Everyday Discrimination Scale,” which is widely used to assess perceived discrimination. “When a person’s sense of human dignity is violated, there are physiological consequences.”

Although the study does have some limitations since researchers still must determine the mechanism by which parental or peer involvement actually worked in reducing the stress response, it challenges researchers to explain “the how” of their findings, says Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota.

“While we are working out the how this comes about in the body, this study provides us with rich targets for increasing resilience in youth and, as if we needed them, more arguments for working to reduce racism and discrimination in our society.”

For caregivers the message is simple. “Just sitting with them, gauging how they are doing is not race specific, it is important across all races, and can have a powerful effect in buffering the effects of discrimination,” says Brody. 

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Child, 4, dies after being pulled from Norwegian Cruise pool

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Richard Drew / AP

People pause to look at the Norwegian Breakaway on the Hudson River in New York in May 2013. A 4-year-old child died after being pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool on the Norwegian Breakaway on Feb. 3, 2014.

A 4-year-old child died after being pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship off the coast of North Carolina on Monday, cruise line and Coast Guard officials said.

Crew members were able to revive a 6-year-old boy also found in the pool. He was airlifted to a hospital, where his condition was unknown.

The two children were found in the morning on the Norwegian Breakaway, the cruise line said in an announcement on its Facebook page. The statement did not give the ages of the children, but Coast Guard Petty Officer Adam SanSoucie said they were 4 and 6.

An emergency medical team on the ship gave both children CPR, but the younger child died, the cruise line’s statement said. The older child, a boy, was airlifted with his grandmother and a nurse to a hospital, the company said. It did not identify the gender of the younger child.

SanSoucie said the boy was taken by Marine rescue helicopter to Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City, N.C. The boy was then transferred to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. A spokeswoman there didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday. 

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family during this extremely difficult time and are providing full assistance and support,” the cruise line said in its Facebook statement. “The family is in our thoughts and prayers and we ask that you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.”

The 4,000-passenger ship was bound for Florida. The Norwegian Cruise Line website describes the Norwegian Breakaway as the “newest and largest ship embarking from NYC” to winter destinations including the southern Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.

— The Associated Press

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