by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On February 7, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, the 65-year-old jurist appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, was outed in a San Francisco Chronicle story. Typically, this would be a non-issue; however, Walker will be delivering a decision concerning the overturning of Prop 8 - a judicial referendum on Gay marriage - which will next head to a federal appeals court and likely also the Supreme Court, where it will likely create a national uproar.
"The biggest open secret in the landmark trial over same-sex marriage being heard in San Francisco is that the federal judge who will decide the case, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, is himself Gay," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle.
Those close to the judge maintain that he doesn't hide his sexuality. The source for the article, a friend of Walker, says he is open about it, "but for obvious reasons, keeps his personal life private."
Walker has declined to talk about the Prop. 8 case - which was assigned to him at random - outside of court. In addition, he declined to comment when the San Francisco Chronicle asked him about his orientation and whether it was relevant to the lawsuit.
Perhaps Walker has been afforded the opportunity to keep mum about his sexuality because so many of his colleagues, Gay politicians in San Francisco, have come forward to say they don't believe his orientation will influence how he will rule on the case.
"There is nothing about Walker as a judge to indicate that his sexual orientation, other than being an interesting factor, will in any way bias his view," said Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which supports the lawsuit to overturn Prop. 8.
California State Senator Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who has sponsored two bills to authorize same-sex marriage (both were vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) said that Walker's background is a non-issue. "It seems curious to me," he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "that when the state Supreme Court heard a challenge to Prop. 8, the justice's sexual orientation "was never discussed."
Leno added, "I have great respect for Judge Walker, professionally and personally."
Many believe that if Walker decides that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, you can bet that supporters of the measure will make the judge's sexuality front and center in their arguments on appeal.
Not so, said Andy Pugno, general counsel for the group that sponsored the Prop. 8 campaign. "We are not going to say anything about that," he said.
He did, however, say that Prop. 8 backers haven't gotten fair treatment from Walker in court, citing that the judge's order for the campaign to turn over thousands of pages of internal memos to the other side and Walker's decision to allow the trial to be broadcast as reasons for his accusations of an unbalanced trial. "In many ways, the sponsors of Prop. 8 have been put at a significant disadvantage throughout the case," Pugno said, "regardless [of] the reason for it."
Walker has a good reputation as a federal judge, say his friends and supporters. His sexuality has always been a non-issue, they say. In fact, in an ironic twist of events, in seeking the job as federal judge, Walker had to disprove allegations that he was anti-Gay due to a case he tried in private practice in the early '80s where the U.S. Olympic Committee sued San Francisco's Gay Olympic Games for use of the Olympic name. Walker acted on behalf of the plaintiffs - and won.
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