SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal judge's long-term relationship with another man was the subject of an unprecedented court hearing on Monday that sparked sharp exchanges about whether he was obligated to reveal whether he wanted to marry his partner before he struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage.
Lawyers for supporters of the voter-approved ban, known as Proposition 8, said the decision by Vaughn Walker, the former chief judge of Federal District Court in San Francisco, should be vacated. They maintain that he should have removed himself or disclosed his position on gay marriage in his own relationship because he and his partner stood to personally benefit from the verdict.
"It now appears that Judge Walker, at the time the complaint was filed and throughout this litigation, occupied precisely those same shoes as the plaintiffs," said Charles Cooper, a lawyer for supporters of Proposition 8, referring to opponents who sued to have it overturned. Judge Walker ruled last year that the ban was an unconstitutional violation of gay Californians' civil rights, but the ban remains in place pending an appeal.
The judge at Monday's hearing, James Ware, sharply questioned Mr. Cooper, asking him why he assumed Judge Walker had any intention of getting married just because he was in a decade-long relationship.
If the judge did not wish to marry, Judge Ware suggested, his situation would have differed from that of the two same-sex couples who were plaintiffs in the case.
"I'm asking you to tell me what fact you would have the court rely on to suggest that Judge Walker wanted to change, not maintain, his relationship?" Judge Ware asked.
The mere fact that Judge Walker had been in a serious relationship "does not put him in the shoes of what the plaintiffs were doing, unless you cite to me some facts that he was desirous of the relief they were seeking," Judge Ware said.
Theodore Boutrous Jr., part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, called the effort to disqualify Judge Walker "frivolous, offensive and deeply unfortunate." He derided Mr. Cooper's assertion that it was Judge Walker's relationship status, not his sexual orientation, that called his impartiality into question.
"It's not some news flash that Judge Walker was in a same-sex relationship," Mr. Boutrous said. "They are targeting Judge Walker because he is gay."