The U.S. judge who struck down California’s ban on gay marriage, confirmed for the first time publicly on Wednesday that his is gay, and said he never considered his own homosexuality a reason to recuse himself from the case.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, now retired, told reporters he believes his sexual orientation was irrelevant to his decision-making in the high profile legal challenge to California’s voter-approved Proposition 8.
“If you thought a judge’s sexuality, ethnicity, national origin (or) gender would prevent the judge from handling a case, that’s a very slippery slope,” Walker said.
The [San Francisco] Chronicle first disclosed Walker’s sexual orientation during the trial, a fact he had neither discussed publicly nor tried to conceal. He said Wednesday he’d been surprised that it hadn’t surfaced earlier and had surmised that “every journalist had decided it was not news.”
The disclosure prompted some opponents of same-sex marriage to accuse Walker of bias and demand that he disqualify himself. Walker noted Wednesday that no parties in the case, including Prop. 8’s sponsors, ever made such a request, and said, “I never thought it was appropriate to recuse from that case.”
Walker ruled against Proposition 8 in August 2010, declaring it “unconstitutional.”
“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians,” Walker ruled. “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples.”
His ruling now hangs in legal limbo while the California Supreme Court considers whether Prop 8 sponsors have standing — the legal right — to defend it on appeal since the state’s governor and attorney general refused to do so.
Walker returned to private practice following his retirement in February.