Now that same-sex marriage has become the presidential issue of the moment, the Old Dominion is again on topic. A conservative state delegate is vowing to fight the appointment of an openly gay man as a General District Court judge in Richmond.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is running for U.S. Senate, said he will seek to remove the name of “homosexual activist” Tracy Thorne-Begland from the list of 41 nominees for judgeships that the General Assembly will consider appointing Monday afternoon.
Thorne-Begland, Richmond prosecutor for the past 12 years, came out as a gay Naval officer on national TV 20 years ago to challenge the military’s now-abandoned “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A former board member of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, he has since spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage. He and his partner, a Richmond lawyer, are raising twins.
Marshall called him “an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda.”
“After more than a week of pleading by some Republican Caucus members, the House Republican leadership has so far declined to [remove] Mr. Thorne-Begland’s name from the block of nominees,” Marshall in a written statement. “If this situation remains unchanged, I will offer an amendment to remove his name.”
Marshall’s statement followed one issued Friday by the Family Foundation of Virginia, which also contended that Thorne-Begland was unfit for the bench because he had spoken out against “don’t ask, don’t tell” and in favor of same-sex marriage. The latter is not legal in Virginia.
Thorne-Begland declined to comment over the weekend, saying via e-mail that it would be improper for him to do so as a judicial nominee. He referred questions to his sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. G. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond).
Loupassi said that Thorne-Begland was “absolutely well qualified” for the post and that his public statements about gay rights do nothing to diminish his fitness for the bench.
Loupassi noted that two former delegates who’ve made their own public statements on a variety of political issues — C. L. “Clay” Athey Jr., a Republican from Warren; and Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips, a Democrat from Southside — are also among the nominees under consideration.
“They took many strong positions,” Loupassi said. “You can’t get any more political than being an elected political official. . . . And we’re approving them.”
Loupassi also said questions about gay rights are not likely to come before a general district court judge, who decides guilt and innocence in misdemeanor cases and probable cause in felony cases, which then are referred to a grand jury.
“It’s like our ‘Night Court,’ ” he said, referring to the 1980s courtroom sitcom. “Did Johnny punch Mary? Did this person steal a bottle of beer from the store? . . . It typically deals with these types of cases. . . . He’s not going to be making decisions relative to some of the hot-button social issues.”