Today there was a victory in California's battle for marriage equality. A federal judge has ruled that a colleague's decision to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage shouldn't be rejected simply because he's gay. The ruling pointed out that the suggestion homosexual judges can't be impartial has implications for all minority jurists, and adds (if you read between the lines) that this idea is pretty damn offensive.
To recap, in August Judge Vaughn Walker, who was appointed by George H. W. Bush, ruled that Proposition 8 should be overturned. In the months following this ruling, Walker retired and publicly acknowledged that he's gay, though this was already widely known in San Francisco. Walker's decade-long relationship with another man became an issue when the group Protect Marriage began to argue that Walker should have recused himself from the case because he stands to benefit from allowing gay marriage.
The L.A. Times reports that today Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware rejected these charges, saying:
"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."
Though Walker's ruling could provide "some speculative future benefit," Ware pointed out that contrary to what opponents of marriage equality believe, every gay person isn't scheming to tie the knot and start making out on straight married couples' lawns. He wrote:
"The mere fact that a judge is in a relationship with another person — whether of the same sex or the opposite sex — does not ipso facto imply that the judge must be so interested in marrying that person that he would be unable to exhibit the impartiality which, it is presumed, all federal judges maintain."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ware went on to say that if we start disqualifying judges for being part of a group that could potentially be affected by case, it would require, "recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases" — not that marriage equality only affects homosexuals! He added, "We all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right."
Though the decision is a victory against those who made bigoted attacks on homosexual judges, the legal battle is far from over. Protect Marriage says it plans to appeal the decision and continue its "tireless efforts" to deny civil rights to fellow citizens. The ruling is encouraging, but it has no immediate effect on the rights of homosexuals to marry in California. A separate appeal of Prop 8 is still pending, and it's likely the case will end up before the Supreme Court.