After Vaughn Walker was nominated for the federal court in 1987, gay activists took issue with his role as a lawyer for the U.S. Olympic Committee who successfully sued to bar a San Francisco sports festival from calling itself the "Gay Olympics."
After Walker issued a landmark ruling Wednesday that overturned California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, his detractors took issue with the fact that the judge is gay.
As the topic stoked Internet and talk radio chatter, some blasts aimed at the presiding judge of the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco were direct and personal.
"Judge Walker should have recused himself from this case since he is a practicing homosexual," wrote Bryan Fischer of the American Families Association. He added: "His own personal sexual proclivities utterly compromised his ability to make an impartial ruling in this case."
Some religious conservatives began calling for Walker to recuse himself after San Francisco Chronicle columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross reported in February that "the biggest open secret in the landmark trial over same-sex marriage … is that the federal judge … is himself gay."
But is the judge's sexual orientation relevant?
Larry Levine, a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, said judges of all races and creeds are legally bound to render impartial verdicts. He said Walker's only reverence was to the law.
"I think it's profoundly offensive to suggest that a judge who is not of the sexual orientation of the majority or the race of the majority or the religion of the majority is unfit to hear cases," he said.
"Are they saying that an African American judge can never rule on an affirmative action case and a Muslim can never rule on a case dealing with religious expression? If you follow their logic, that's exactly what they're saying."
Maggie Gallagher of the anti-gay-marriage National Organization for Marriage released a statement after the ruling saying, "The 'trial' in San Francisco … is a unique episode in American jurisprudence. Here we have an openly gay … federal judge substituting his views for those of the American people and of our Founding Fathers."
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