Federal court discusses same-sex unions, sequestration - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Federal court discusses same-sex unions, sequestration

by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Taking on the feds and privacy, technology and the law was the focus of today's annual district conference that was held at the Guam Hilton. Hot topics from today's conference included same-sex unions and sequestration.

Retired Judge Vaughn Walker said, "I ultimately decided that I did not want to create the impression or the basis of an impression that a gay judge could not sit on a case and decide issues that at least in a general fashion affected gay and lesbian people. The same way in other judge would."

The retired chief judge of the Northern District of California Vaughn walker was the keynote speaker at today's annual District Conference.  Judge Walker spent more than 21 years on the bench presiding over about 8,000 cases, but he is best known for presiding over the decisive Perry v. Schwarzenegger case in 2010.  The action challenged California's ballot initiative Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman precluding the state from recognizing marriages between same sex couples.

Judge Walker found that Prop 8 failed to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and women for denial of a marriage license. He also found that it prevented California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis. "This one attracted an intensity of public attention that was of an all together different dimension. Plus, it is a social issue, touches upon a social issue that is of wide spread interest," he shared.

Judge Walker says he treated the case no different than how he handled his other cases. "I thought my job was to allow the lawyers and the parties to present their positions, present their evidence, make their arguments and get a decision based upon those presentations in the same way they did in any other case. That was my job and that's what I tried to do," he said.

The Supreme Court ultimately upheld judge walker's opinion and ruled that Prop 8 proponents did not have standing to appeal his ruling. The discussion during today's district conference prompted former senator, Attorney Howard Trapp, to reiterate his position that same-sex marriages are currently legal on Guam. He explained that a provision was included in the law when he was in the 14th Legislature that provides that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.

Trapp said, "If two men or two women would go and apply for a marriage license now and fill out all the applications, get turned down. Go to the court and get a writ of mandate, I truly believe that we have same-sex marriage on Guam."

Meanwhile, the impacts of sequestration on the District Court of Guam over the last year have been cause for concern as was brought up during several speeches today.  Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood says she and 86 other chief judges from around the nation have penned a letter to Congress expressing concerns about the cuts, calling them unconstitutional.

Tydingco Gatewood said, "The fact that there's going to be less monies to go and protect one's constitutional rights especially in criminal cases, just doesn't work and civil cases. If we have to close the court down and there are no civil trials, access to justice will be really, really limited."

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