Critics denounced a vote Tuesday by Virginia lawmakers rejecting a gay prosecutor for a judgeship in the state’s capital, saying the representatives were on the “wrong side of history” and pushing a “form of bigotry,” according to local local media reports.
Tracy Thorne-Begland, a prosecutor for 12 years in General District Court in Richmond, was the only one of more than three dozen judicial nominees who failed to win approval from the House of Delegates, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The final tally was 33 for and 31 against, while 36 either didn’t vote or abstained. Fifty-one votes were needed to approve.
Thorne-Begland’s nomination for the bench in the same court where he was a prosecutor came under scrutiny last week after the Family Foundation of Virginia, Republican Delegate Robert G. Marshall and others said they opposed his nomination because of his candor on gay rights. They said they didn’t object to him because of his sexuality, The Washington Post reported.
“He holds himself out as being married,” Marshall said, according to the Post. In Virginia, where gay marriage is not legal, he said Thorne-Begland’s “life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the (state) Constitution.”
But Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring described the decision as an “embarrassment” for Virginia that cast “a definite pall on the state,” and said Thorne-Begland would have done a great job.
“It's hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it's a form of bigotry,” Herring told reporters, the Times-Dispatch reported.
"We are on the wrong side of history," said Democratic Sen. A. Donald McEachin, of the rejection. "This is not our finest hour."
Thorne-Begland told the Times-Dispatch after the vote: "I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the city of Richmond and the great Commonwealth of Virginia."
Thorne-Begland announced he was a gay Navy officer some two decades ago on the television program “Nightline.” That led to an honorable discharge for the decorated officer under the military's former "don't ask, don't tell," policy, according to the Times-Dispatch.
That policy, repealed in 2010, banned gay men and women from serving openly in the military.
The Virginia assembly’s decision came a week after North Carolina voting down gay marriage while President Barack Obama became the country’s first president to support same-sex unions. A Gallup poll released last Tuesday found that 50 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage while 48 percent were opposed. It was the second time that at least half of Americans had backed same-sex marriage.
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