A now retired Vaughn R. Walker announced that he is gay, but insisted that being a homosexual was not relevant to his decision to strike down Proposition 8, California’s gay marriage ban.
The former Chief U.S. District Judge opened up about his sexuality on Wednesday during a meeting to announce plans for a private practice focused on conflict resolution. In the meeting with federal court reporters, Walker said he saw no reason to step down from the Prop. 8 case because he is gay.
“I don't think it's relevant. I never thought it was appropriate to recuse myself from that case," he said.
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. "It would not be a positive development if you thought a judge's sexuality, ethnicity, national origin or gender would prevent a judge from handling a case,” he told reporters.
A Republican and former business lawyer, Walker was appointed in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush. Last August, he ruled against California’s voter-approved marriage amendment, determining that people of the same sex do have the right to marry and that the decision of the majority to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman violates that right.
"Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians," the judge wrote in his 136-page opinion. "The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples."
Many conservatives took issue with Walker’s ruling. Steve King (R-Iowa) responded, “This judge, Judge Walker, claims that he has arrived at a rational basis and I think it’s a completely irrational basis.”
Some were more irked that he would nullify the will of the people and undermine democracy by striking down what 52 percent of voters passed in November 2008.
“We really need to ask ourselves the question: are we now in the position of giving a judge the decision to decide whether or not the American people are rational when they go to the voting booth and make their wishes known,” Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) commented.
Before the high-profile ruling, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Walker was gay and that it was an “open secret.” Walker never confirmed it until Wednesday.
Walker retired after the ruling from the U.S. District Court of Northern California. He served 21 years as a federal judge.
Since his 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.