WASHINGTON

Contender withdraws from defense secretary job search

Michele Flournoy, a main contender to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has taken herself out of consideration for the Pentagon’s top job, people familiar with the process said Tuesday.

Flournoy’s decision underscores the difficulty President Obama may face in finding a candidate to take the helm at the Pentagon late in his second term and as the administration faces intense criticism of its handling of crises in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Other candidates being considered include Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who previously served as the Pentagon’s general counsel, according to several people close to the process. But given Republicans’ staunch opposition to that action, tapping Johnson for the Pentagon post risks turning his confirmation hearing into a fierce debate on immigration. The president would also need to fill the top job at Homeland Security again just as the department is implementing the immigration actions.

Two Pentagon veterans are also seen as contenders for the department’s top job: former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Robert Work, who currently holds the No. 2 job at the Pentagon.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.

Federal judge strikes down state’s gay marriage ban

A federal judge has struck down Arkansas’ gay marriage ban, which could eventually pave the way for county clerks to resume issuing licenses.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled Tuesday in favor of a pair of same-sex couples who had challenged the 2004 constitutional amendment and an earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

But Baker put her ruling on hold, anticipating an appeal.

A spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says he is reviewing the ruling. He says a decision will be made after the Thanksgiving holiday and in consultation with Republican Attorney General-elect Leslie Rutledge.

The ruling comes as the state Supreme Court is weighing a separate case, which stems from May, when a Pulaski County judge struck down the ban.

– From news service reports