BREAKING: Thorne-Begland Becomes Virginia's First Out Gay Judge

Former prosecutor's appointment reverses General Assembly's rejection of his nomination last month

The openly gay prosecutor whose nomination for a judgeship was rejected by the Virginia General Assembly in May was temporarily appointed to Richmond General District Court today, making him the first out gay judge in the commonwealth.

Bevill Dean, clerk of the Richmond Circuit Court, confirmed to Metro Weekly that the circuit court had appointed Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former Naval pilot, to the unfilled vacancy on the General District Court for the city of Richmond.

Thorne-Begland last saw his nomination fall 18 votes short of the 51 required to assume the judgeship after 31 members of the Republican-led House of Delegates voted against his nomination, with 10 more delegates abstaining and 26 others not voting.

House Republicans scuttled Thorne-Begland’s nomination after conservative lawmakers and groups, primarily Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William Co.) and The Family Foundation, questioned whether his sexual orientation and marriage would prevent him from upholding current Virginia law, in which same-sex marriage is constitutionally banned.

Other lawmakers opposed Thorne-Begland because they either questioned his honesty regarding his concealment of his sexual orientation when he first joined the Navy, or thought he may have violated military protocol when, in 1992, he later came out and publicly challenged the military’s ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. After coming out as gay, he was honorably discharged.

”It’s exciting that the court made a fair and wise decision, and a step forward that we’ll have an openly gay judge serving in spite of the General Assembly’s narrow-minded actions,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax counties), the only out gay member of the Virginia General Assembly. ”I’m confident that he’ll be an outstanding jurist.”

Ebbin noted that the appointment to the General District Court is only temporary, meaning Thorne-Begland will serve on the court until his nomination can be voted upon once more by the General Assembly during its 2013 legislative session.

”I’m hopeful that the General Assembly will make a wiser decision in 2013, and I will be advocating strongly for that,” Ebbin said.

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

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