RICHMOND, Va. — GOP lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates, led by virulently anti-gay Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), have blocked the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.
Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Richmond prosecutor for the past 12 years, had been nominated for an open judgeship, but the nomination was quickly decried by the conservative group The Family Foundation and Marshall, who argued that Thorne-Begland’s sexual orientation would conflict with his ability to hold up the state’s constitution.
Thorne-Begland, who lives with his partner and two adopted children, has been an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights, particularly following his discharge from the U.S. Navy in the early 1990s under the now repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. He has also served as a board member of Equality Virginia, an LGBT advocacy organization.
Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House — 51 votes — to secure the judgeship. Ten delegates abstained and 26 others did not vote, reported Metro Weekly.
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.
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.
In an email statement to LGBTQ Nation on Tuesday, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said he was “profoundly disappointed and dismayed that the Virginia General Assembly allowed fear mongering and shrill personal attacks” to derail Thorne-Begland’s election to the bench “simply because he is an out gay man.”
“Contrary to the Family Foundation’s shrill attack, the fact that Mr. Thorne-Begland chose to acknowledge his sexual orientation publicly and accept the consequences (an unwanted discharge from the military) rather than continue to live each day in a lie showed his honesty and integrity and respect for the law,” Parrish wrote.
“Mr. Thorne-Begland should be seen as a hero, like others whose celebrated civil disobedience helped bring change to unjust laws, rather than vilified as a law breaker by those who continue without reason to oppose basic human rights and nondiscrimination laws for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians.
“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.”
“It’s hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it’s a form of bigotry,” said Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring. He said Thorne-Begland’s defeat in the Virginia House of Delegates is an “embarrassment” for the state.
Marshall has made headlines in the past for his controversial, anti-gay views.
Last June, Marshall sent a letter to the Federal Reserve Bank of Virginia alleging that its decision to fly a rainbow flag in honor of LGBT pride month, “undermines the American economy” and claimed it was a class six felony in Virginia.
Repeated requests for a comment from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell went unanswered.