RICHMOND — The Virginia House of Delegates blocked the judicial nomination of a Richmond prosecutor and Navy veteran who would have become the state’s first openly gay judge after a heated argument in the House of Delegates spilled into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
A majority of Republicans defeated the selection of Richmond Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland for a General District Court judgeship in the city, arguing that he had betrayed his military oath and questioning whether he could uphold a state Constitution that forbids same-sex marriage.
Mr. Thorne-Begland, who has adopted twins with his partner, was honorably discharged from the Navy and famously declared his sexual orientation on national television 20 years ago to protest the military’s now-repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Eight Republicans joined 25 Democrats to vote “yea,” while 31 Republicans voted no. Twenty-six members did not vote.
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, one of the most socially conservatives members of the General Assembly, led the charge against Mr. Thorne-Begland, calling him “an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda.”
Mr. Marshall, who is seeking 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. “While our judges and judicial candidates certainly have a right to free speech, they do not have the right to disregard the Virginia Constitution.”
“He’s eminently qualified,” he said. “There are 12 years he’s been prosecuting very serious crimes.”
Mr. Loupassi said that cases that go before general district courts involve issues like, “Did John smack Mary?” and “Did someone trespass on someone’s property?” - not issues where Mr. Thorne-Begland’s sexual orientation would come into play. But, should such a conflict occur, Mr. Loupassi said, Mr. Thorne-Begland had already indicated he would recuse himself.
Democrats had strong words on the House vote. The evenly divided Senate voted 20-19 to not take up his nomination immediately, preventing members from taking an up-or-down vote on the nomination since Monday’s session - which dragged on into Tuesday - was the final day.
“This is not our finest hour, when we did not even have the political courage to pass a vote on his behalf,” said Senate Democratic caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat. “We are on the wrong side of history.”
Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, who has witnessed countless debates on same-sex issues during his near decade-long tenure in the more conservative House, had strong words as well.
“I’m no longer a member of the House, but I sat there and was embarrassed and disgusted by what I saw,” said the Arlington Democrat, the legislature’s first openly gay member, adding that he was “ashamed” at the behavior of the Republican senators.