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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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House of Delegates votes down gay judicial nominee

The House of Delegates narrowly rejected an openly gay Richmond prosecutor who was nominated to be a General District court judge.

The vote, taken in the early morning hours Tuesday, was 33 for Tracy Thorne-Begland, 31 against and ten abstentions. It was not enough to approve Thorne-Begland’s appointment.

Conservative Republicans in the House, led by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, said they objected to Thorne-Begland becoming a judge because of his activism for gay rights. They also objected to the fact that twenty years ago, as a naval officer, he came out on national television to object to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”

Marshall also questioned how Thorne-Begland could take an oath to uphold the constitution — which includes a provision barring same-sex marriage — when Thorne-Begland is in a relationship, has adopted children and has been active in working with gay-rights groups.

Marshall and several other Republican delegates, most of whom are current or former members of the military, spoke against Thorne-Begland’s appointment.

He was defended by several other delegates, including Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, who had sponsored Thorne-Begland’s appointment.

In a press release from the state Democratic Party, Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, called the opposition to Thorne-Begland’s appointment “politics at its worst. … He deserves to be on the General District Court and we should all be ashamed of today’s decision to reject his appointment.”

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, said the vote proves there is still discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“The rejection of Mr. Thorne-Begland shows that discrimination based on sexual orientation is alive and well in Virginia,” Sickles said. “And, it shows that legislators are more concerned about the Family Foundation scorecard than Richmond’s District Court.”

The Senate did not vote on Thorne-Begland’s appointment. Democrats objected to the Senate not voting, and to the House’s rejection.

Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, said it “bears some comment” that lawmakers failed to elect someone who had been a fighter pilot and a respected prosecutor.

“It is simply because he is gay,” McEachin said. “We are on the wrong side of history.”

 

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