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Va. House Vote Blocks Openly Gay Judicial Nominee

May 15, 2012

The House of Delegates, voting in Tuesday's early morning hours, blocked an openly gay Richmond prosecutor from appointment to a General District Court judgeship in the city.

Tracy Thorne-Begland received 33 yes votes, 31 no votes — all from Republicans — and 10 abstentions in his bid to become what gay-rights advocates said would have been Virginia's first openly gay jurist. Twenty-six House members, including seven Democrats, did not vote.

A minimum of 51 votes in the 100-member House is required for election.

Thorne-Begland, a former Navy pilot who was honorably discharged after publicly disclosing his sexual orientation, was one of only two candidates among scores of judicial nominees not to be approved during a 'round-the-clock marathon that lingered from 1 p.m. Monday to 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Legislators spent most of the day considering 106 total amendments Gov. Bob McDonnell offered to two budget bills that will direct Virginia government spending through June 2014. More than one-fourth of McDonnell's amendments lay dead by day's end, many of them rejected by fellow Republicans in the House and Senate.

Among those who won easy judicial confirmation in the House and Senate were two candidates who retired just last year from the House. Republican Clifford "Clay" Athey from Warren County and Democrat Clarence "Bud" Phillips of Dickenson were approved for circuit judgeships.

Among Thorne-Begland's fiercest critics was Del. Robert G. Marshall, an outspokenly anti-gay Republican from Prince William who is among four candidates seeking the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination in next month's primary.

Marshall said he opposed Thorne-Begland on grounds that he denied his true sexual orientation in a statement those entering the armed forces at the time were forced to sign in the era before President Bill Clinton instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military.

"That statement asked the question as to personal sexual behavior: Are you a homosexual," Marshall said. "To get into the military, Mr. Tracy Thorne-Begland had to sign a statement, 'No, I am not.'"

Later, Marshall said he also considered Thorne-Begland unfit for the bench because being openly gay clashes with his duty to uphold the Virginia Constitution, which includes an amendment that defines marriage solely as a monogamous union between a man and a woman.

Marshall, fellow Prince William Republicans Scott Lingamfelter and Richard L. Anderson and Del. L. Mark Dudenhefer of Stafford also said Thorne-Begland breached rules against those in uniform speaking out politically by appearing on national television news programs to discuss his sexual orientation.

Supporters said Thorne-Begland's decision to publicly announce he is gay 20 years ago knowing the harsh consequences showed honesty and courage.

Thorne-Begland's chief House defender was also a Republican. Del. Manoli Loupassi, a Richmond lawyer, has known and practiced for years in courtrooms with Thorne-Begland, a successful deputy commonwealth's attorney in charge of handling the capital city's heavy caseloads of homicides, assaults and other violent crimes.

"He's been doing his job and he's been doing it well. He's been protecting us from criminals," Loupassi said. "I have known this man for a very long time and I believe that he absolutely will carry out the duties of his office in a dignified way and a correct way."

Virginia's first openly gay legislator, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said he was "ashamed and disgusted" by the "homophobic behavior of the House of Delegates."

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