Chief District Judge James Ware threw out a motion on Tuesday filed by conservative activists alleging that his predecessor, Judge Vaughn Walker, who overturned California's same-sex marriage ban last year, should have recused himself from the case because he is in a long-term relationship with another man.
“You can't simply assume that a judge who takes an oath to uphold the law and judge fairly is incapable of doing so,” Ware said during hearing.
Walker retired from the federal district bench in Northern California in February and revealed that he has been in a relationship with another man for ten years. Proponents of the ban, known as Proposition 8, argued that Walker's ruling should be overturned because he stands to benefit from a same-sex marriage.
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Ware heard oral arguments over the motion on Monday, and the judge pointed out that there is no evidence that Walker plans to marry his partner.
Legal experts and civil rights activists have characterized the motion as frivolous and offensive.
Peter Renn, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, called the motion “a desperate and dangerous witch hunt for gay judges that comes at the expense of judicial integrity.”
“Apparently, the proponents also believe that the impartiality of female judges who have been the victims of rape is open to question in cases involving sexual assault,” Renn said.
Monday's hearing included its own touchy comparisons to judges who rule on civil rights cases involving people of their own race or gender. Opponents of the marriage ban called the motion “offensive.”
“The Proponents of Proposition 8 today advocated for a sweeping and completely unsupported standard for disqualification that would preclude hundreds of qualified, fair-minded judges from deciding some of the most important issues facing our country,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., an attorney for the group that originally challenged Proposition 8.
Walker told reporters in April that he never considered dropping the case because he is gay, according to Reuters.
Walker's 2010 ruling established several legal facts that are reverberating throughout the ongoing appeals process. Walker found that same-sex marriage does not endanger heterosexual marriage, and affirms the legitimacy of gay, lesbian and bisexual identities by establishing that sexual orientation is a “fundamental identity and a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a distinct group.”