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Proposition 8, Judge Walker and our short memories

August 5, 2010 |  7:12 am

Vaughn Walker The political radar has been picking up bits of chaff about the Proposition 8 ruling and U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, the gist of it being that, well, of course the judge supports same-sex marriage rights – he’s gay.

That kind of argument always reminds me of what happened to a reporter friend of mine, a woman who’d been covering some big political race for a newspaper in Texas, until the editor called her in and told her she was being pulled from the campaign. You see, he explained, both of the candidates are women, and you’re a woman, so that’s a conflict of interest.

Yep, absolutely spot-on logic there.

What makes it curiouser and curiouser is that gay-rights groups were livid when President Reagan nominated Walker to the federal bench in 1987 – and the Senate refused to confirm him. It wasn’t until President George H.W. Bush had a second run at the nomination that Walker was confirmed.

This is what Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told my colleague Maura Dolan back in June, citing the judge's sexual orientation and his legal history as the Proposition 8 case's courtroom phase was wrapping up: "Vaughn Walker was in the center of it," Kendell said, "and from the gay community's perspective, on the wrong side."

"It" was the fact that Walker, years earlier, as an attorney, had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee (which is almost as vigilant as Disney about its brand) in a trademark lawsuit against the Gay Olympics.

That case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may be where Proposition 8 is ultimately headed, and you know what? Those "activist judges" sided with Walker, and the "Gay Olympics" lost.

And the other argument being put forward, that "majority rules" and because Proposition 8 won a majority of votes, those voters’ wishes are being violated by this ruling? Well, in the checks-and-balances system, the voters do not always have the last say.

In a precedent-setting legal exercise nearly 50 years ago, the California Legislature had passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which banned discrimination against ‘’colored’’ property renters or buyers. (Restrictive covenants about not selling to minorities were written into a number of deeds and real estate transactions.)

About 2/3 of California voters overturned the Rumford Act when they passed Proposition 14, which, like Proposition 8, had amended the California Constitution. Proposition 14 said Californians could indeed refuse to sell or rent to anyone for any reason. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 14 violated the 14th Amendment, and it didn’t matter if 100% of Californians had voted for it -- it was racial discrimination, and unconstitutional. The equal protection clause that Walker cited in his Proposition 8 ruling is part of that same 14th Amendment.

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Judge Vaughn R. Walker, speaking in 2006. Credit: AP Photo / San Francisco Daily Journal, S.Todd Rogers

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