Prop. 8 Judge Raises Tough Questions
BY Advocate Contributors
June 09 2010 1:55 PM ET
Walker asked the attorneys if they believe the court “could find Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional without also considering the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”
Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which is waging one of the DOMA challenges, said he thinks Prop. 8 can be found unconstitutional without implicating DOMA.
“Practically, people may have views on whether DOMA could stand, given some bases on which Prop 8. might be struck,” Buseck said. “Then again, some narrow theory for striking Prop. 8 may have no necessary effect on DOMA.”
In some cases, Walker’s questions appear to be hinting that the evidence submitted thus far for certain critical facts may be insufficient. For instance, he asks, “What are the constitutional consequences if the evidence shows that sexual orientation is immutable for men but not for women? Must gay men and lesbians be treated identically under the equal protection clause?”
If a minority is treated poorly because of an immutable trait, such as race, courts may scrutinize laws that treat them differently with a more rigorous review, known in legal parlance as strict scrutiny.
“We think that term 'immutable' has a meaning different in this analysis from just whether something is 'changeable' in the day-to-day sense,” said Lambda Legal marriage project director Jennifer C. Pizer. “Just because a person's expression of their sexuality may be different at different stages of their life doesn’t mean their orientation is a matter of voluntary will at any given moment or, more to the point, that the government has any business telling the person to change as the price of equal treatment under law.”
Walker is expected to be an active questioner during closing arguments, as he was during opening statements in January. On that day he quickly interrupted Olson to ask, “Does the right to marriage mean you have the right to a marriage license from the state?” He interrupted Cooper’s opening statement to note that if President Obama’s parents — an interracial couple—had lived in Virginia, “their marriage would have been unlawful. Doesn’t that indicate there’s been quite a change in our understanding of what people are entitled to marry? Couldn’t an argument be made that there’s been a similar evolution with respect to same-sex marriage?”
Walker was equally active in challenging both sides throughout the three weeks of testimony in the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, in January.
The trial itself spanned almost three weeks, with 16 witnesses for the plaintiffs challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban, and three witnesses who support the initiative.
Judge Walker, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, is chief of judges in the U.S. district court for Northern California. His credentials coming into the case were predominantly conservative.
In addition to being a Republican appointee, his reputation includes having been one of the attorneys representing the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1985 when it prohibited the San Francisco Arts & Athletics Association from calling its event the Gay Olympics. Walker and his colleagues won the Olympic committee’s case against Gay Games in 1986 before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But days after Walker adjourned the witness portion of the trial, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that it is an “open secret” in San Francisco that Walker “is himself gay.” The paper made its report without identifying any named sources and with only a “no comment” from Judge Walker himself.
An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses in California between June and November 2008, the period between the California supreme court ruling that the state’s constitution required they be treated the same as heterosexual couples, and the passage of Prop. 8.