Virginia Republicans Deny Judgeship to Gay Prosecutor

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Amid the ongoing debate over President Obama's support of gay marriage and following of North Carolina's recent ban of it, Virginia's House of Delegates voted today to deny a judicial nomination to Tracy Thorne-Begland, who would have become the state's first openly gay judge. According to The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise, Thorne-Begland received 33 "yes" votes to 31 "nays," in a vote held in the early hours on Tuesday morning, but needed a 51-vote majority of all the House delegates to be approved. All 31 nay votes came from Republicans, who claimed that Thorne-Begland's lifestyle and support for gays causes would make it impossible for him to be impartial.

Thorne-Begland was nominated for a spot on the General District Court of Richmond, where he spent the last 12 years working as a state prosecutor. His nomination was approved by House and Senate judicial committees, but opposition arose after some Republicans began to question his impartiality, particularly when it came to the issue of marriage equality. Thorne-Begland, who is not married, but lives with his partner and their two children, was honorably discharged from the Navy 20 years ago after he came out publicly on Nightline as a protest against "don't ask, don't tell." 

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Republican Delegate Robert Marshall (who is running for U.S. Senate) also accused him of pushing an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda." According to The Washington Post's Laura Vozzella, Marshall claims that Thorne-Begland "holds himself out as being married,” which makes his “life a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution.” According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a Christian conservative group also sent an email blast to supporters saying Thorne-Begland was unfit to serve because of his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia.

Despite heartfelt support from both Democrats and Republicans politicians, including Governor Bob McDonnell, the opposition against Thorne-Begland was too strong. His current boss, Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, called the vote an "embarrassment" and said, “It's hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it's a form of bigotry."

Democrats in the State Senate also criticized their fellow lawmakers for not even allowing Thorne-Begland's nomination to come to a vote, with Sen. A. Donald McEachin saying, "This is not our finest hour" and Sen. Adam Ebbin, adding that the Senate  "acceded to the homophobic behavior of the House." Thorne-Begland was the only one three dozen judicial candidates who was not approved on Tuesday.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.