Openly gay Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland was appointed to the bench by the Richmond City Circuit Court on Thursday after his nomination was derailed last month in the state legislature.
The General Assembly will have to confirm the appointment if Mr. Thorne-Begland is to get a permanent position, but he will nevertheless become the first openly gay judge in the state's history on July 1.
The Circuit Court was authorized to make the interim appointment because the state legislature did not fill the vacant General District Court position during the 2012 session, but it expires 30 days after the 2013 General Assembly convenes.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat, applauded the circuit court judges for their decision.
"I have always had and continue to have the utmost confidence in Mr. Thorne-Begland's ability to serve our community, and I am gratified to see that the circuit court judges share my confidence," he said.
House Republican leadership, meanwhile, issued a statement saying they were "surprised and disappointed" not by Mr. Thorne-Begland, but by the court's action.
"The authority given to the Circuit Courts was not intended to function as an appeals process for candidates who have been previously rejected by the General Assembly," read the statement issued by the office of House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican. "To place Mr. Thorne-Begland on the bench notwithstanding that rejection is to reach beyond the intended bounds of the Circuit Court's authority to make such recess appointments."
Earlier this week, members of five prominent Richmond law firms sent a letter to Chief Judge Richard D. Taylor supporting Mr. Thorne-Begland's appointment. Delegate Richard L. Morris, Isle of Wight Republican, also reversed his previous opposition to Mr. Thorne-Begland's election after concluding that he did not violate Navy code when he made an appearance on national television protesting the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy because he was not in uniform.
Other members of the House who had served in the military said they objected to Mr. Thorne-Begland's appointment on the grounds that he had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice, denying charges from his supporters that their opposition was based solely on his sexual orientation.
Judicial appointments require a majority of both the House and Senate. The vote in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates was 33-31, with 10 abstentions. Mr. Thorne-Begland needed 51 votes in the 100-member House.
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican and one of the most socially conservative members of the General Assembly, led the campaign against Mr. Thorne-Begland, calling him "an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda."
Mr. Marshall, who on Tuesday lost a bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2006 barring same-sex couples from getting married in Virginia.
"Can this candidate swear the required oath to support our state's Constitution if he has already indicated by his past actions that he does not support that section of our Constitution barring same-sex legal relationships?" Mr. Marshall said during the floor debate. "While our judges and judicial candidates certainly have a right to free speech, they do not have the right to disregard the Virginia Constitution."
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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