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Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage

By Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters Scotland voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to allow same-sex marriages, becoming the 17th country to give the green light to gay marriage despite opposition from its main church organizations.  The Scottish government, which will hold a referendum on independence from Britain in September, said passing the same-sex marriage bill was an important step for equal rights and paved the way for same-sex wedding ceremonies later this year.  The move was opposed by the Scottish Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland but the law will not compel religious institutions to hold ceremonies on their premises.  The approval, in a vote of 105 to 18 in Scotland's devolved parliament, follows similar legislation passed by the British parliament last year that allows same-sex marriage in England and Wales, with the first weddings to take place from March 29.  Scotland Health Secretary Alex Neil said it was "right that same sex couples should be able to freely express their love and commitment to each other through getting married".  "Marriage is about love, and that has always been at the heart of this issue," Neil said in a statement.  Gay campaigners said the vote was a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in Scotland and welcomed the Scottish government's efforts to advance the approval from an expected time frame of 2015.

Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again


Hilary Hosia / AFP - Getty Images Jose Salvador Alvarenga after his arrival in Majuro. By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs mars Games preparations


Quinn Rooney / Getty Images Stray dogs walk in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb.

Chemical weapons deal strengthened Assad, says US intel chief

By Warren Strobel, Reuters Last year's agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons left President Bashar Assad in a strengthened position, and there appears little chance rebels will soon force him from power, the U.S.

Afghans tune into first televised presidential debate

By Jamieson Lesko, NBC News Producer KABUL – The ultimate test of democracy is underway in Afghanistan – its people are about to elect a new leader as the country struggles to maintain stability while facing a large-scale drawdown of NATO forces.

Mexican fisherman shore up Marshall Islands castaway's account

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who claims he spent more than a year lost at sea, stepped warily off a boat in the Marshall Islands' capital with the help of a nurse after being transported from the isolated atoll where he was washed up.

Facebook under pressure over online drinking game linked to Ireland deaths

By Henry Austin, NBC News contributor Facebook was under pressure from lawmakers Tuesday to curb an online drinking game known as "Neknomination" after the phenomenon was linked to the recent deaths of two young men in Ireland.

Palestinians marry, but remain separated by Israeli borders


By Lawahez Jabari, NBC News Producer TEL AVIV, Israel – With Valentine’s Day approaching, many Palestinian couples split between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel may end up sending their love by mail, which would be much easier than securing the permission to cross in or out of the occupied territories.

Rare iguanas hidden in socks found by UK customs at Heathrow


Thirteen endangered iguanas have been seized by UK Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport outside London.

Report: Austrian athletes get Sochi Games kidnap threat letter

By Michael Shields and Angelika Gruber, Reuters VIENNA - Austria's Olympic Committee has received a letter threatening to kidnap skier Marlies Schild and skeleton racer Janine Flock at the Sochi Winter Games that begin this week in Russia, Austrian media reported Tuesday.

U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul standing down after Sochi Games

Very sad to announce my departure later this month. I will miss Russia and its people http://t.co/OtXbRsUP5W @USEmbRu @StateDept @WhiteHouse— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) February 4, 2014 By Alexander Smith, NBC News contributor The United States ambassador to Russia announced Tuesday he would be leaving his post after the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Mystery of 400 dead dolphins found on north Peru coast


AP A dolphin carcass lies on the beach at Puerto Eten in Peru, Saturday. LIMA, Peru - More than 400 dead dolphins were found last month on the Pacific Ocean beaches of northern Peru where twice that amount were encountered in 2012, officials said Monday.  Authorities never established the cause of the deaths in 2012.

Italy to investigate Amanda Knox judge over 'not appropriate' comments to media


Andrew Kelly / Reuters Amanda Knox sits before being interviewed on the set of ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York on Friday.

For Russians in Olympics' shadow, Sochi construction leaving them in the cold


Carlo Angerer / NBC News Atop a small mountain ridge just outside Sochi, 73-year-old Nadezhda Kuharenko's small house stands in the middle of a vegetable garden.

Gay-rights groups will avoid Olympics -- and spread message via social media


Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters Gay activists take part in a protest event in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Nov.

Togo seizes tusks of 500 dead elephants hidden in cargo bound for Vietnam


Stringer / Reuters A Vietnamese man identified as Huu Dinh Khao, left, and two Togolese men stand next to a haul of ivory tusks after being seized by security forces at the port of Lome January 28, 2014.

Nelson Mandela leaves $4.1 million estate to family members, others


Elmond Jiyane / GCIS via AFP - Getty Images Nelson Mandela's widow, Graca Machel (C), and his ex-wife, Winnie Mandela Madikizela (R), arrive for Mandela's funeral ceremony in Qunu, Dec.

Moscow student storms school, kills 2 and takes 20 hostage


Maxim Shemetov / Reuters Children walk out of School 263, on the outskirts of Moscow, after the shooting on Monday.

'People are eating cats': Starvation, deaths plague Syria camp


Slideshow: Hunger, malnutrition rampant in Syrian refugee camp Sources say that in Yarmouk Camp, just south of Damascus, more than 80 people have died since the beginning of the year, most of them children.

Obama's call to Seahawks superfan marine in Afghanistan made his day


Cpl. Alex Flynn / DVIDS Capt. Joe Beale, an officer with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion and Seahawks fan, cheers as his team scores a touchdown during the Super Bowl.


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