The Virginia House of Delegates early yesterday rejected the nomination of an openly gay man for a judgeship on the General District Court in Richmond after social conservatives orchestrated a drive to keep him off the bench. Tracey Thorne-Begland, a Richmond prosecutor, was supported by a bipartisan majority in the House Courts of Justice Committee, but a last-minute campaign to thwart his confirmation gained steam quickly Monday, and a 1 a.m. vote on the matter caught his supporters off guard. His confirmation was rejected by a vote of 33-31, with 10 delegates abstaining. Judicial nominees require at least 51 votes in the Virginia House to be confirmed.
Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County who led the opposition, said Thorne-Begland’s past advocacy for LGBT equality disqualified him from serving as a judge. Two decades ago Thorne-Begland, a former naval officer, went on ABC’s Nightline to say that he was gay–an admission that led to his discharge from the U.S. Navy
“It is hard to think about what happened at the General Assembly and not conclude that it is a form of bigotry,” Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It causes people around the country to question Virginia’s ability to be tolerant and to be inclusive.”
Virginia Sen Adam Ebbin, a Democrat and the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, told the Associated Press he was “ashamed and disgusted” by the vote.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement seeming to condemn the vote. “If anyone voted against Mr. Thorne-Begland because of his sexual orientation, that would be very disappointing and unacceptable,” the statement read. But the progressive news blog Talking Points Memo noted McDonnell has evolved on this issue, pointing to a 2003 quote in which the then-chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee said a nominee’s homosexuality “raises some questions about the qualifications to serve as a judge.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans, slammed the vote in a statement to GayPolitics.com: “The rejection of highly qualified Richmond prosecutor, Tracy Thorne-Begland, for the post of General District Court judge is an embarrassment to Republicans in Virginia. Delegate Bob Marshall’s use of a man’s military service and his commitment to family against him flies in the face of true conservative values. As Governor McDonnell said, Thorne-Begland’s nomination should have been considered solely on his merit, record, aptitude and skill,” Cooper said.
UPDATE: Log Cabin Republicans also issued a statement today via their blog: “Log Cabin Republicans strongly condemn the actions of the Virginia Delegates that voted against Thorne-Begland on the basis of his sexual orientation. The Richmond prosecutor has qualifications tailor-made for a judgeship on Richmond’s General District Court. Thorne-Begland is a former naval aviator, a graduate of University of Richmond’s School of Law, and has served more than 10 years as a prosecutor. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t have been confirmed.”