World and Nation

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Suit Seeks To Force Government To Extend Benefits To Same-Sex Couples

The legal advocacy group that successfully argued for sex-same marriage in Massachusetts intends to file suit here on Tuesday seeking some federal benefits for spouses in such marriages.

The target is the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. That law denies federal benefits, like Social Security survivors’ payments, to spouses in such marriages.

Because same-sex marriage is allowed in only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the number of spouses who are denied such benefits is fairly small. But Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the group planning to file the federal suit, believes the number will grow as more states consider granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

At least eight other states, including New York, are considering same-sex marriage bills.

The suit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, does not challenge a separate provision of the act that says states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

And while the Government Accountability Office has identified more than 1,100 federal statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in rights and benefits, the suit focuses narrowly on equal protection as applied to Social Security, federal income tax, federal employees and retirees, and the issuance of passports.

A Review Site Called Yelp Draws Some Outcries Of Its Own

For computer and cell phone users in big American cities, Yelp has become a popular Web site for ranting, raving or just reading about local businesses, from the auto mechanic to the neighborhood watering hole.

Built almost entirely on 5 million reviews by zealous volunteers, the five-year-old San Francisco company shows how the Internet can amplify the voices of individuals to provide useful information to the community.

But as with other big sites that rely heavily on user reviews, like TripAdvisor, and CNet, Yelp is struggling to serve the competing needs of the reviewed businesses, some of whom advertise, and the users, who can safely and anonymously say anything they want.

Yelp has made some recent changes to please business owners. Yet it still refuses to investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond to reviews on the site. Instead, the company operates on the premise that reviewers tend to be truthful and that greater accuracy will emerge from more reviews.

But as the company tries to expand beyond its current 24 cities, maintain its lead over rivals and become profitable, it is beginning to realize that it needs to build trust with businesses, too — especially since their ads provide almost all of the company’s revenue.

Short Of Dentists, Maine Adds Teeth To Doctors’ Training

Cindy Merrithew was nervous about having her teeth pulled, mainly because a doctor would be doing the work.

“I was skeptical,” said Merrithew, 47, a nurse’s assistant whose mouth is filled with damaged, brittle teeth. “I didn’t know if they knew much about the dentistry field.”

Dentists are in such short supply in Maine that primary care doctors who do their medical residency in the state are learning to lance abscesses, pull teeth and perform other basic dental skills through a program that began in 2005.

“Doctors typically approach the mouth from a distance,” said Dr. William Alto, a physician at the Maine Dartmouth Family Practice Residency here in rural Fairfield, which conducts one of two dental clinics for medical residents (the other is at Maine General Hospital in Augusta).

“They say ‘say aah,’ take a look at the back of the throat and are done,” Alto said. “Many physicians, even family physicians, have given up that part of the body because they don’t have the skills.”

Maine has one dentist for every 2,300 people, compared with one doctor for every 640, and the gap is expected to widen as both dentists and doctors retire over the next decade. Nationally there is one dentist for every 1,600 people.

Finding The Facts Of A Case Via Video

The Supreme Court is entering the YouTube era.

The first citation in a petition filed with the court last month, for instance, was not to an affidavit or legal precedent but rather to a YouTube video link. The video shows what is either appalling police brutality or a measured response to an arrested man’s intransigence — you be the judge.

Such evidence verite has the potential to unsettle the way appellate judges do their work, according to a new study in The Harvard Law Review. If Supreme Court justices can see for themselves what happened in a case, the study suggests, they may be less inclined to defer to the factual findings of jurors and to the conclusions of lower-court judges.

In 2007, for instance, the Supreme Court considered the case of a Georgia man who was paralyzed when his car was rammed by the police in a high-speed chase. The chase was recorded by a camera on the squad car’s dashboard, and that video dominated the court’s analysis.

The federal appeals court in Atlanta had ruled for the driver, Victor Harris, at a preliminary stage in the case, saying a jury should decide whether his driving warranted the aggressive measures taken by the police.