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The court wrote in Monday’s 4-3 decision Monday that a lower court was within its discretion when it earlier dismissed the request. But the Supreme Court left the door open for the gay couples to modify their request and try again.

A Helena district court judge dismissed the six couples’ case last year after state prosecutors argued that spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples. A voter-approved amendment in 2004 defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock based his ruling in part on the state’s marriage amendment and also said that an order to force state lawmakers to write new laws would violate the separation of powers.

The majority justices upheld that decision. The court wrote that the gay couples want the court to intervene “without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege.”

James Goetz, the attorney for the couples, said in April arguments before the high court that his clients were not asking for the right to marry. But they are entitled to make the same decisions about their families’ health care and finances as married couples under the Montana Constitution, and the state’s refusal to expressly provide those rights is discriminatory, he said.

Assistant Attorney General Mike Black responded that the couples’ demands were overly sweeping and they do not cite the specific laws that would have to be changed.

CALIFORNIA

NRC slaps Japanese company on nuke work

LOS ANGELES — Federal inspectors have identified new questions related to California’s troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report says a Japanese company that manufactured the plant’s troubled steam generators failed to meet requirements with some equipment it’s using to test possible long-term repairs.

NRC inspectors who visited Mitsubishi Heavy Industries found workers failed to verify that more than 1,000 tubes being used in generator models to explore potential fixes matched specifications for tubing in the California generators.

It raises the possibility Mitsubishi is looking for fixes on the wrong-sized equipment.

The plant between San Diego and Los Angeles has been dark since January after a tube break released a trace of radiation. Investigators later found heavy wear to hundreds of generator tubes.

Mitsubishi had no immediate comment Monday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports