The sponsors of California’s Proposition 8 filed papers in federal court in San Francisco today seeking nullification of a ruling that struck down the ban on same-sex marriage.
The sponsors argued that the trial judge in the case, now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, should have disqualified himself from the case because he has a long-term gay partner.
They alleged Walker had a personal interest in the outcome of the case because he might want to marry his partner.
Walker’s “impartiality might reasonably have been questioned from the outset,” the sponsors’ attorneys wrote.
As a result, the proponents argued, “the only responsible and just course is to vacate the judgment entered in this case.”
In August, Walker struck down Proposition 8, an initiative enacted by state voters in 2008. Ruling in a lawsuit filed by two-same-sex couples, Walker said the gay marriage ban violated the federal constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.
The initiative’s sponsors and their committee, Protect Marriage, are seeking to appeal that ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Walker’s ruling has been stayed while the appeal is pending.
Today’s request to have Walker’s decision vacated is separate from the appeal and was filed with the new trial judge assigned to the case, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware.
The sponsors asked Ware to hold a hearing on their request on July 11.
Walker, 67, retired from the court in February and entered private practice. During a trial on the couples’ lawsuit last year, he publicly neither disclosed nor denied that he was gay.
But in a post-retirement meeting with a group of legal reporters on April 6, Walker said he had a 10-year relationship with a male doctor.
He did not say whether he had ever wanted to marry, but said he did not think his sexual orientation was relevant to his job as a judge and said he had “never thought it was appropriate” to disqualify himself from the case.
Lawyers for the plaintiff couples and the city of San Francisco, which joined in the challenge, said they believe the sponsors’ claim has no legal merit and said they will file papers opposing it.
“The motion is totally frivolous,” said Chief Deputy San Francisco City Attorney Therese Stewart.
Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, said, “This motion is yet another in a string of desperate and absurd motions by Proposition 8 opponents who refuse to accept the fact that freedom to marriage is a constitutional right.”
The Los Angeles-based foundation sponsored the lawsuit.
“Clearly, the proponents are grasping at straws because they have no legal case,” Griffin alleged.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News