Judge Vaughn Walker, Who Struck Down Prop 8., Speaks Out

Judge Vaughn Walker, who struck down Proposition 8, reflects on the case as SCOTUS prepares to take it up, in a conversation with the Mercury News:

WalkerWalker wasn't always so sure the Proposition 8 case would reach the Supreme Court, although he prepared from the outset for that possibility. He notes that the gay marriage debate was at a different juncture in 2009 — few states had legalized same-sex marriage (nine do now), and President Barack Obama was still several years away from backing same-sex marriage rights in the courts.

"It was a different time, and the Supreme Court doesn't always get out in front of public opinion," Walker said. "Not that many cases go to the Supreme Court."

Over the objections of Proposition 8 backers, Walker ordered a full trial to establish a complete record on the arguments from both sides, aware the higher courts would review whatever he decided. "If you are going to have an issue that deals with a significant constitutional matter, it pays to have some facts that are established the old-fashioned way," he said.

But, to Walker's surprise, after lawyers for same-sex couples put on a parade of witnesses, gay marriage foes put on scant evidence, offering just two witnesses, including one who later came out in favor of same-sex marriage rights. "I did think the proponents of Proposition 8 would put on a case," Walker said.

"It never occurred to me that they would … ," and his trademark baritone trails off. Walker asks for the correct baseball term for taking a swing and a miss at a pitch and then just shrugs.

And whiff they did.


  1. Kevin-in-Honolulu says

    My extreme contempt for Vaughan Walker was replaced 2 years ago with indifferent suspicion when he served as the judge in the Proposition 8 case.

    I knew Vaughan Walker when he was a lawyer at Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro in San Francisco in the mid-80s. I worked for the firm providing clerical support while in graduate school. He was closeted then and surrounded himself with attractive summer associates. He was a lead attorney in the lawsuit against Tom Waddell, a Gay Olympian (1968, Mexico City) who later started started the Gay Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (a client PM&S) sued Waddell for using the word “Olympics.” The suit destroyed Waddell and made him destitute, and he died in 1987. I was amused when Walker became a judge and ended up with this case, hoping he would be forced from the closet and faced with his past. I hope Walker knows there are people who remember his anti-gay past and that he did a lot of damage to the gay community and to Tom Waddell – the generation that knew this about Walker is disappearing, but I hope history remembers him – the good and the bad that he did for the gay community. At, PM&S he was a lawyer paid to destroy the Gay Olympics – for the citizens of California, he is paid to interpret the law that hopefully will soon enables gay men and lesbians to marry.

  2. David Hearne says


    Lawyers represent the interests of their clients. Your complaint is that 30 years ago he was closeted and surrounded himself with eye candy?

    I was out in the 1980’s in San Francisco and I’ll grant you that I could not understand why anyone would move there and then be in the closet… but many on Montgomery Street were. I would love to think that times have changed about face, but if you will drive through the parking lot of a law school I think you would be surprised at the dearth of liberal and/or gay bumper stickers. Or any bumper stickers. Lawyers are a dime a dozen… many aren’t even working in their field. Getting good jobs means getting in the door. ONce that is accomplished many things change. Law firms want people who look and act like multitalented professionals who can make it rain. It’s really about money.

    Lawyers aren’t supposed to be objective. Judges are.

  3. Stefan says

    @David–Very, very true. The whole system works because lawyers are supposed to zealously represent their clients. Moreover, a lawsuit about trademark infringement (I assume that’s what the action against Waddell was) is about business–not about being anti-gay. It’s unfortunate, as is being in the closet, but it doesn’t make him a bad person. As for surrounding himself with attractive summer associates, that may have been inevitable. Go to any top law school and you’ll find that most of the guys are quite attractive and well put together. Only business schools are better in this regard.

  4. Kevin-in-Honolulu says

    Thank you for your comments David. I understand your point about lawyers – they suppress who they are and what they personally believe in for a dollar. I worked in the library at PM&S and what I saw made me never want to work anywhere near lawyers again – it was a great 18 month work experience and life lesson.

    Walker caused a lot of pain to a lot of people in the middle of the AIDS epidemic when he could have walked away, he could have passed the case to someone else. This case was one of many to take on the “Who owns a word” – you could have the Crab-Cooking Olympics or the Dog Olympics – but the mere proximity of Gay to the word Olympics enraged the IOC and they took it out on Tom and others. It was sickening, much like what the Tea-tards are doing to the US.

    For many, it is all about money. I’m very glad I am not infected with that illness, because there’s no cure for it – you always want more.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

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