A U.S. District Court judge dealt a setback today to Christian Right efforts to weed gay judges out of the federal judiciary system.
Chief Judge James Ware rejected the argument by Christian Right political organizations that no gay judge who is in a relationship may rule on a case involving legally recognized relationships such as marriage. Narrowly speaking, antigay groups had sought to prevent any gay person other than a celibate or “ex-gay” from serving as a judge in family-law matters. More broadly, the Christian Right groups sought to rationalize a future ban on female, black, atheist, and Jewish judges serving in cases involving minority constitutional rights.
On the question of whether Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself from a trial against California’s Christian Right-sponsored Proposition 8, Ware ruled:
“The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification under Section 455(b)(4). Further, under Section 455(a), 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. Accordingly, the Motion to Vacate Judgment on the sole ground of Judge Walker’s same-sex relationship is DENIED.”
Ware further explained:
“Requiring recusal because a court issued an injunction that could provide some speculative future benefit to the presiding judge solely on the basis of the fact that the judge belongs to the class against whom the unconstitutional law was directed would lead to a Section 455(b)(4) standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases. Congress could not have intended such an unworkable recusal statute.”
Ware emphasized that all Americans are bound to protect one another’s fundamental rights, and that everyone has an equal stake in protecting those rights. Members of a minority group are neither more nor less vested in protecting the rights of all, than the general public:
The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right.
Those who pit majority privilege against minority rights undermine constitutional law and civil society.
While Ware’s ruling represents a step toward restoration of constitutional equality and pro-family policy in California, the struggle to overturn the antigay, antifamily, and un-American Proposition 8 continues.
The state Supreme Court must still decide whether Christian Right groups — operating under the banner ProtectMarriage.com — can step in and defend the proposition, since those who had legitimate jurisdiction over the proposition opted not to appeal Walker’s original ruling.