April 6, 2011 at 5:15 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Federal judge who struck down Prop 8 comes out: report

The retired U.S. district judge who struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage last year came out as gay to reporters on Wednesday and said he’s been in a relationship with a physician for 1o years, according to Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who retired from the bench in February, also reportedly said he never considered his sexual orientation a reason to recuse himself from the case, known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which is challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and is now on appeal.

Walker reportedly said it would not be appropriate for any judge’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or gender to prevent them from presiding over a case.

“That’s a very slippery slope,” Walker was quoted as saying.

The talk to a handful of reporters was Walker’s first public comments to reporters about presiding over the lawsuit challenging to Proposition 8. The San Francisco Chronicle reported last year Walker is gay, although he wouldn’t comment on the reporting.

Walker’s announcement also retroactively makes him the first openly gay male to sit on the federal bench. Other openly out gay male federal judicial nominees are pending before the Senate: J. Paul Oetken, nominated to become a district judge for the U.S. Southern District of New York, and Edmund DuMont, nominated to become an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said gay judges shouldn’t expected to recuse themselves from cases because of their sexual orientation.

“Just as nobody would think to ask a female judge to recuse herself in cases involving discrimination against women, it is equally absurd to think a gay judge should recuse himself in a case involving LGBT issues,” Dison said. “All that matters is that judges are qualified, competent, impartial and fair.”

Dison added that LGBT Americans are still “dramatically underrepresented” on the federal bench and said “it’s nothing short of bullying” to suggest a judge’s sexual orientation would prevent him or her from deciding a case on its merits.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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