Virginia’s General Assembly rejected a gay man for a Richmond judgeship early Tuesday, after conservatives argued that his support for gay marriage and challenge to the military’s now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made him unfit for the bench.
The House of Delegates voted 33 to 31, with 10 abstentions, to make Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland a General District Court judge in Richmond. He had needed 51 votes in the 100-member chamber to win appointment.
“He holds himself out as being married,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is running for U.S. Senate. Noting that gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, he said that Thorne-Begland’s “life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution.”
The Senate did not vote on the nomination itself, but Republicans killed it by passing it by for the day — the very last of this year’s General Assembly session. The decision to pass it by cleared the evenly divided body 20-19, with one Democrat, Yvonne B. Miller of Norfolk, not voting.
“The debate in the House of Delegates was homophobic and embarrassing and showed a disrespect to a chief deputy commonwealth attorney and decorated veteran who was honorably discharged,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Virginia’s first openly gay state senator. “It’s offensive that the Senate wouldn’t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote.”
Hours before the vote, in response to a reporter’s question, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said through a spokesman that a judicial nominee’s sexual orientation should not be an issue.
“The Governor believes candidates for judicial vacancies must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill,” said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. “No other factors should ever be considered and the Governor has long made clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government.”
Marshall, the Family Foundation of Virginia and others who raised concerns about Thorne-Begland’s nomination said they did not object to him because he is gay, but because of his outspokenness on the subject of gay rights.
“I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. He faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that the action amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”
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