Posted by: Catherine Lugg | June 15, 2011

An important win on queer marriage

Yesterday, US District Chief Judge James Ware ruled that Judge John Walker did NOT have to recuse himself from the trial over Proposition 8, the case involving California’s ban on queer marriage. Upon retirement, Walker revealed that yes indeed, he was a gay man in a long term relationship.

The advocates of Prop 8 had argued that Walker had a vested interest in the outcome of the trial, but they were on very shaky legal ground. In prior decisions involving judges who were women and minority men, the federal courts have consistently ruled that membership in a minority group does NOT automatically disqualify a judge from ruling on a matter. As the LA Times reported:

“It is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings,” Ware wrote.

The ruling also suggested that Walker had no obligation even to disclose his personal relationship with his partner.

If Walker had revealed “intimate but irrelevant details of his personal life” to the litigants, he could have “set a pernicious precedent” for other judges by promoting disclosure of highly personal information, Ware said.

Ware’s decision was in line with other cases involving challenges of judges based on race, gender and religion.

“The notion that judges cannot be attacked based on their membership in a minority group has now been reaffirmed in the context of gay and lesbian judges,” said Theodore Boutrous, who argued the case for two same-sex couples challenging California’s gay marriage ban. “I think people will be citing this decision for many years.”

This decision was expected and it is and is not a big deal. Yes, it’s a big deal since this is the very first time that a federal judge has said “being queer” doesn’t automatically disqualify a judge from deciding on a case involving queer rights. BUT, the precedence for this decision is just so darned overwhelming, that’s the decision is no big deal precisely because it’s consistent with precedence.

That said, it *IS* indicative of how desperate the professional homophobes are. Instead of getting Walker’s decision thrown out, they’ve blown a lot of $$$ on legal fees AND helped established another cornerstone of queer civil rights.

All in all, a good day indeed.

John Aravosis has a link to the actual decision. Enjoy!

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