California Judge Upholds a Ruling on Gay Marriage

June 15, 2011

By IAN LOVETT, The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge on Tuesday upheld the ruling that struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, asserting that the judge’s 10-year relationship with another man did not disqualify him from deciding the case.

In the court’s decision, Chief Judge James Ware of Federal District Court in San Jose determined that there was no evidence that Judge Vaughn Walker intended to marry his longtime partner, thus he had no obligation to disclose his relationship.

“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,” Judge Ware wrote.

He called the case the first in which a judge’s same-sex relationship led to an effort to disqualify him. However, he cited other decisions that allowed female judges to rule on gender discrimination cases.

Theodore Boutrous Jr., part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the case, called the decision a major victory for gays and lesbians in the judiciary.

“This decision is in line with decisions in the areas of gender, race and ethnicity and religious background,” Mr. Boutrous said. “This is a powerful statement about gays and lesbians deciding gay cases.”

News reports about Judge Walker’s relationship surfaced in February, after he retired from the bench. Lawyers for supporters of the ban, known as Proposition 8, argued that Judge Vaughn should have removed himself from the case, or at least disclosed his decade-long relationship, not because of his sexual orientation, but because he stood to benefit from the decision.

But to require Judge Walker to remove himself, Judge Ware wrote, “merely based on the fact that the presiding judge is engaged in a long-term same-sex relationship, is to place an inordinate burden on minority judges.” Members of a minority group, he wrote, have no greater stake than any other citizens in ensuring equal rights for everyone.

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