Judge Vaughn Walker is back in the news even though he retired from the Federal Bench in February. Judge Walker ruled that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, which meant that gay marriage was allowed in California because the language of the earlier Proposition 22 had made it legal in the state. An anti-gay rights group had recently argued that Walker should have recused himself from the case because he was in a gay relationship.
I had speculated that his would ultimately bubble up because I knew Vaughn was gay. Vaughn and I were close friends during out freshman and sophomore years at the University of Michigan. We both loved to talk politics and business. I visited him at his home in Watseka, Illinois, and met his parents, and he visited my home in Chicago.
After our first two years in Ann Arbor we went our separate ways. Vaughn was a dedicated student while I became Sports Editor of the Michigan Daily newspaper. Vaughn knew he was headed for a career in law and politics. I knew I loved writing and sports and women, so we moved in different circles.
I went back to Chicago after college while Vaughn headed for the Bay Area and Stanford Law. We connected sporadically by letter and phone and occasionally got together when I went to San Francisco on business.
About a dozen years ago Vaughn was in Chicago and called me to ask if we could have dinner—just the two of us. I happily agreed. We hadn’t seen each other in a decade. We met at a nice restaurant near the Lincoln Park Zoo.
We talked for a little while over drinks and then Vaughn told me that he was gay and had a huge crush on me when we were at the U of M. I almost fell out of my chair. It was no shock that he was gay, but learning about how he had felt about me during those first two years of college absolutely floored me. I felt incredibly naïve about my own naiveté. He told me he knew I was straight and his attraction toward me would never go anywhere.
We finished our dinner and I went home to my wife, Risa. I didn’t know how to process the news from Vaughn Walker, my old friend, but I decided to tell Risa about the conversation. We had a good talk and filed it away until last year when Vaughn got the case over Proposition 8.
I felt that I could not write about it at the time because Vaughn had chosen not to recuse himself. Could Judge Walker separate himself from the sexual politics of California to make the biggest judicial decision of his career? Knowing my brilliant incisive friend Vaughn as a student of law, I thought he could, but Vaughn had lived on the sexual political divide of politics and daily life for so long, how could he be impartial about an issue that cut to the quick of gay life in America?
Vaughn Walker, Federal Judge, ruled Prop 8 was unconstitutional, which I knew he would.
On June 13, his decision to not recuse himself was vindicated by his successor to the bench. Another big day in my friend’s career.
But for me personally, the memory of that dinner in Chicago is what lingers. Gays and straights, at least in my generation, still have a hard time being straight with one another.
Question: Is it possible to be impartial on an issue that hits home for you?