The judge who blocked the voter approved ban on same sex marriage known as Proposition 8 in California last year has revealed he has been in a committed same sex 10 year relationship with another man.
Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said the ban on same sex marriage violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause:
“Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples,” Walker said in his judicial opinion.
Backers of the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban say Walker should have recused himself from ruling on the case stating in a motion to have the ban re-enacted that he “…plainly had an ‘interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding,'”, citing federal law regarding disqualification of judges.
“Only if Chief Judge Walker had unequivocally disavowed any interest in marrying his partner could the parties and the public be confident that he did not have a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case,” the motion stated.
Proceedings in the case have been “marked by a number of irregular and unprecedented rulings, both procedural and substantive, that give gravely disquieting force to the ‘appearance of partiality’ created by the belated disclosure of Chief Judge Walker’s long-term, committed relationship,” the motion also stated.
Walker was appointed in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush. The judge told reporters for Reuters that “he didn’t think it was appropriate for any judge’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or gender to stop them from presiding over a case”.
The backers that want Judge Walker’s ruling taken back aren’t suggesting that no lesbian or gay judge can hear the case, only that no judge should hear the case if they have an interest in the outcome.
“In this case, it is undeniable that Chief Judge Walker failed to make the required disclosure. At no point prior to the entry of judgment did Chief Judge Walker disclose that he is in a now 10-year long, committed same-sex relationship. And he has yet to disclose whether he has any interest in marrying his partner should the injunction he issued be upheld on appeal,” the motion said. “… Simply stated, under governing California law, Chief Judge Walker currently cannot marry his partner, but his decision in this case, and the sweeping injunction he entered to enforce it, would give him a right to do so.”
Walker’s ruling stating the ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional may have the issue heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is unclear whether the Supreme Court’s ruling will have an effect on gay marriage nationwide.
The Supreme Court stated in an unrelated decision that it had doubts about the ability of third parties to challenge rulings by judges that strike down ballot initiatives such as the one banning gay marriage in California.
Prior to Walker’s ruling, the California Supreme Court allowed the gay marriage ban to stand, saying it represented the will of the people after voters approved it in 2008.