A federal judge ruled Tuesday to uphold Judge Vaughn Walker's decision to strike down California's same-sex marriage ban.
Proponents of Proposition 8 – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman – had asked that Walker's 2010 ruling be vacated, given that he has been in a same-sex relationship and thus had something to gain from the case. But Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware rejected that bid.
"The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification," Ware concluded.
Walker had presided over the case involving two same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit against Proposition 8. The marriage amendment was passed by a majority of California voters in November 2008.
In August 2010, Walker ruled against the voter-approved measure, saying in his 136-page opinion, "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.
"The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples."
The ruling was a blow to traditional marriage advocates. Proponents of Proposition 8 argued that this is about democracy and respecting the people's vote, more than anything.
After the ruling, Walker retired from the U.S. District Court of Northern California earlier this year. He served 21 years as a federal judge. The case was reassigned to Judge Ware.
He then opened up about his sexuality in April, confirming what the public already knew, that he was gay. Media reports revealed that he has been in a same-sex relationship for 10 years.
Walker has argued that his being in a relationship was irrelevant to his decision to strike down Proposition 8 and did not think it was appropriate to recuse himself from the case.
To do so, Walker said, would be to go down a slippery slope where judges must recuse themselves from a judicial matter because of one’s race, gender or nationality.
But Proposition 8 proponents say he should have recused himself or at least disclosed his relationship.
"This is something he had a vested interest in,” Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said.
Ware, however, said in his decision Tuesday, "Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case. The single characteristic that Judge Walker shares with the Plaintiffs, albeit one that might not have been shared with the majority of Californians, gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits than would exist for any other judge or citizen."
Since Walker’s decision on Prop. 8, traditional marriage proponents from ProtectMarriage.com have appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court is currently awaiting a ruling from the California Supreme Court to decide whether Proposition 8 proponents have the legal right to defend the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in lieu of the governor and state's attorney general.
The state Supreme Court will likely decide the issue of standing by the end of this year.