Virginia Legislators Reject Gay Nominee

Republicans in the House of Delegates scuttle nomination of gay prosecutor to Richmond General District Court

The Virginia House of Delegates today rejected the nomination of an openly gay man to Richmond General District Court, denying him the 51 votes needed to become the first out gay judge in the commonwealth.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a prosecutor in General District Court, received 33 votes in favor of his nomination to the bench, with 31 delegates voting against, 10 delegates abstaining and 26 others not voting.

The vote split largely along party lines, with 25 Democrats and eight Republicans, mostly from districts in Fairfax County and the Richmond suburbs, voting for his nomination. All 31 votes against Thorne-Begland came from Republicans, with nine Republicans and one independent abstaining, and 19 more Republicans and seven Democrats not voting.

Thorne-Begland was one of nearly three-dozen nominees, but was the only one rejected after conservative lawmakers, particularly Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William Co.), and the conservative group The Family Foundation led the charge against Thorne-Begland’s nomination.

Marshall, who is running for the U.S. Senate in a primary against George Allen – former governor and former U.S. senator – questioned whether Thorne-Begland could be impartial in upholding Virginia law, including the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, considering his sexual orientation.

Other opponents raised questions about Thorne-Begland’s personal life, noting his marriage to a man with whom he is raising two children, and his former position as a board member for the nonpartisan LGBT-rights group Equality Virginia.

Opponents also questioned his honesty and integrity because he had concealed his sexual orientation in the military until 1992, when he was honorably discharged after revealing his sexual orientation and speaking against the ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

In response to the House vote, Equality Virginia issued a statement condemning the legislators who refused to confirm Thorne-Begland.

”Equality Virginia is profoundly disappointed and dismayed that the Virginia General Assembly allowed fear mongering and shrill personal attacks by the Family Foundation and Delegate Bob Marshall to derail Richmond lawyer Tracy Thorne-Begland’s election to the bench simply because he is an out gay man,” James Parrish, Equality Virginia’s executive director, said in a statement. ”Mr. Thorne-Begland has served his country and his city with honor and unquestioned competence, first as a Navy pilot, and then as a prosecutor.”

”The fact that the Legislature caved in to the Family Foundation’s biased blathering is another unfortunate marker on the forced march to the past on which they seem determined to lead the Commonwealth,” Parrish continued.

Del. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond), a lawyer and former prosecutor who had spoken in favor of Thorne-Begland, said he was disappointed that Thorne-Begland’s nomination had been rejected.

”I thought he was qualified – highly qualified – for the job,” Loupassi told Metro Weekly. ”My dealings with him have always been very respectful. He’s very knowledgeable and very professional.”

With the General Assembly’s failure to confirm Thorne-Begland, it now falls to the Richmond Circuit Court to fill the vacancy, Loupassi explained. While he doesn’t know if the court would consider naming Thorne-Begland to the post, he said he would support such a move.

”I’m sorry it happened,” Loupassi said of the rejected nomination.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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