Court Strikes California Prop. 8

Judge Vaughn Walker, the openly gay chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Judge Walker based his ruling on the following:

An initiative measure adopted by the voters deserves great respect. The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters. When challenged, however, the voters’ determinations must find at least some support in evidence. This is especially so when those determinations enact into law classifications of persons. Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough. Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives. He concluded that religious perceptions are not constitutionally significant and that “religious leaders may determineindependently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce” but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law. In addition, “marital status affects immigration and citizenship, tax policy, property and inheritance rules and social benefit programs.” However, individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation and “marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.”

Although I don’t have a problem with who marries who, It seems odd that a case like this gets decided, by an openly gay judge. We all know that this will go to the Supreme Court and proposition 8 will ultimately approved by a 5-4 vote. What ever happened to deciding a case on what the constitution says. Is there a clause there, about gay rights? Over at Rhymes with Right, Greg thinks the judges opinion is tainted.

The judge in the case had an actual conflict of interest. After all, as a gay man in a long-term relationship living in California, striking down Prop 8 benefits him personally, as it allows him to marry that partner if he chooses and thereby accrue the benefits of marriage otherwise unavailable to him. In short, he had a personal interest in the outcome of this case that went beyond the mere question of “do I agree or disagree with Prop 8?” The equivalent would be a black judge with school-aged kids living in Topeka deciding Brown v. Board of Education. Even if his reasoning in the decision were unassailable, his personal situation would be loaded down with personal interests at odds with those of one side of the case — and the appearance would be so improper as to argue against his presiding in the case even if he were a paragon of judicial impartiality capable of setting aside those personal interests.

It would be nice if our courts actually started ruling on actual law rather than just personal morality opinion.

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