Should Judge Vaughan Walker's decision to legalize gay marriage in California be overturned because he is gay? That's the question that was debated in a San Francisco court Monday and that will be answered today when Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware delivers his decision as to the impartiality of Judge Walker. The lawyers opposing gay marriage have submitted that because Judge Walker has been in a gay relationship for the past ten years, he was in the "same shoes as the plaintiffs" and should have recused himself from the case due to conflict of interest. The pro-gay-marriage legal team is arguing that there is no reason to believe that Judge Walker either wanted to get married or that he was unfit to hear the case just because he is gay.
Judge Walker was the presiding judge for Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the landmark 2010 case that overturned Proposition 8 and California's statewide ban on gay marriage. Though there had been persistent rumors during the trial that Walker was gay, he did not publicly come out and announce his relationship until April 2011, about eight months after he had delivered his decision. Judge Walker is now retired, and he did not attend Monday's court proceedings.
Much of the courthouse debate revolved around analogous situations. A black judge would not recuse himself from a civil-rights case solely on the basis of his skin color, Judge Ware pointed out, so the burden was on the defense to prove that Judge Walker intended to get married. Attorney Charles Cooper argued that Judge Walker's non-disclosure of his relationship status until almost a year after the end of the case was enough reason to revisit the verdict. The pro-gay-marriage team, represented by Theodore Boutros Jr., disagreed:
"Just because people are gay and lesbian and in a relationship doesn't mean they are all alike. He is just engaging in this stereotyping that everyone is the same… There is no evidence that Judge Walker intended to get married. None."
Judge Ware will issue his verdict at some point today.