The New York Times published a blistering editorial on Tuesday, criticizing the supporters of California’s Proposition 8 — the voter approved ban on gay marriage that was later declared unconstitutional — for seeking to have the ruling voided because the federal judge that presided over the case is gay and was in a long-term relationship.
On Aug. 4, 2010, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, now retired, struck down the ban as unconstitutional. Last month, Walker confirmed for the first time publicly that his is gay, although it was widely known before the trial began.
Last week, Proposition 8’s lawyers argued that the ruling should be tossed out because he had had a duty to recuse himself, or at least disclose the relationship at the start of the case.
The claim is bogus. It is well established that personal characteristics, like race, sex, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, do not by themselves invoke the rule that judges must step aside if their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Our justice system relies on trusting members of the nation’s diverse bench to put aside their personal characteristics and abide by their duty of even-handedness. Any other approach would invite foolish and unacceptable results — female judges being kept from hearing rape or sexual discrimination cases, or black judges from hearing cases involving racial bias or civil rights.
The U.S. District Court for Northern California has issued a “fast-track” order in the Proposition 8 case, and has scheduled a June 13 hearing to consider the motion to have ruling thrown out.