By SABRINA TAVERNISE source NY Times
Published: May 15, 2012
The Virginia House of Delegates rejected the judicial nomination of a gay prosecutor on Tuesday after conservative Republican lawmakers argued that the nominee would press an activist agenda.
Early on Tuesday morning, the House voted 33-to-31, with 10 abstentions, against the candidacy of Tracy Thorne-Begland, who was nominated for a judgeship on the General District Court in Richmond. Mr. Thorne-Begland, a deputy commonwealth attorney in Richmond, needed a majority of the 100-member House to be confirmed. He would have been the state’s first openly gay judge.
Mr. Thorne-Begland, a former fighter pilot, disclosed his sexual orientation as a Naval officer almost 20 years ago, in a challenge to the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy barring gays from service. He was honorably discharged after the disclosure.
Mr. Thorne-Begland, who is raising twins with his partner, has served on the board of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group. His partner is also a lawyer, according to the group's Web site.
Conservatives, including Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County, argued that certain aspects of Mr. Thorne-Begland's biography meant that he would not be able to be impartial if he became a judge, an assertion that those supporting Mr. Thorne-Begland disputed.
Mr. Thorne-Begland also tried to allay those concerns in a letter to Delegate David B. Albo, a Republican who is chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Mr. Thorne-Begland declined to comment on the vote, saying only that “I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the City of Richmond and the great Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Committees in the Senate and the House had approved the nomination, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans. On Tuesday, 31 Republicans voted against Mr. Thorne-Begland, while eight voted for him.
Democrats who supported Mr. Thorne-Begland strongly criticized the outcome.
“It is a sad day for Virginians who believe in equality,” said Charniele Herring, the House minority whip.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, implicitly condemned the vote in a statement released by his office Tuesday, saying judicial candidates “must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill.”
“The governor has long made clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government,” the statement said