How the **** can you vote Republican knowing they actively pursue discrimination like this?Virginia’s Republican-controlled House rejected the judicial nomination of a gay Richmond prosecutor early Tuesday morning, plunging the critical swing state into the middle of the national debate about the civil rights of gay Americans.
The prosecutor, Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former fighter pilot and Navy officer, failed to garner the majority of the 100-member House of Delegates that was required to secure the judgeship. Lawmakers in the House of Delegates voted 33 to 31 to support him, with 10 abstentions.
The vote, which took place after 1 a.m., after a number of delegates had already gone home, took lawmakers by surprise. Mr. Thorne-Begland’s candidacy had broad bipartisan support from the Courts of Justice Committee, which is charged with vetting judicial appointments, and many lawmakers assumed his appointment would be approved. Indeed, seven Republicans voted in favor of his candidacy.
But Mr. Thorne-Begland, 45, ultimately failed to draw the votes after lobbying from both the Family Foundation, a powerful conservative group that opposed his candidacy, and conservative lawmakers, who argued that his past indicated that he would press an activist agenda from the bench.
The rejection comes as the country is in the midst of a roiling debate over same-sex marriage that has placed the civil rights of gays and lesbians in the national spotlight. Last week, President Obama said he supported same-sex couples’ right to marry, a position that set off a frenzy of political soul-searching as Republicans and Democrats staked out their own positions. States, meanwhile, have been passing legislation banning same-sex marriage, most recently North Carolina last week. Others, including New York and Maryland, have passed laws legalizing it.
Mr. Thorne-Begland disclosed his sexual orientation as a naval officer nearly 20 years ago during an appearance on ABC’s “Nightline,” in a challenge to the military’s ban on service by homosexuals. He was discharged honorably from the Navy after the disclosure, reinstated by a federal court, and then discharged again under the subsequent “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He also served on the board of Equality Virginia, a gay rights nonprofit group.
“The only conclusions I can come to is that he was not supported because he was gay,” said Delegate Charniele Herring, a Democrat who voted for him.
But conservatives, including Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County, argued that those aspects of his biography meant that he would not be able to be impartial, and might even engage in activism, if he became a judge. Mr. Marshall, together with several fellow Republicans from his county, a number of them former military men, led the charge against Mr. Thorne-Begland on Tuesday morning.
“It’s about a pattern of behavior that is just notorious for homosexual advocacy,” Mr. Marshall said. He added that Mr. Thorne-Begland had misrepresented himself on his application for military service, joining the Navy despite the ban on homosexuals in service. “The fact that he defied his oath and could not have been candid on the application — that’s highly problematic, and it stays with you,” Mr. Marshall said.
Mr. Thorne-Begland, who is raising twins with his partner, according to a biography that he provided, tried to allay concerns about impartiality, saying in a letter sent to Delegate David B. Albo, a Republican who is the chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, that if confirmed as District Court judge, he would “neutrally apply the laws.” He also pledged to stay out of politics and public discourse.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, weighed in on the debate Tuesday, sending out a statement that implicitly condemned the vote, saying judicial candidates “must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill.”
The statement also said Mr. McDonnell had “long made clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government,” an assertion that his Democratic opponents say contradicts his own record. When he was a state legislator, Mr. McDonnell was head of the committee that held hours of hearings and ultimately torpedoed the candidacy of a lesbian judge, Verbena Askew, whose sexual orientation was a central part of the debate.
Virginia is one of more than 30 states with a ban on same-sex marriage, and gay advocacy groups say the state’s record on civil liberties for gays and lesbians is spotty. House Republicans have twice blocked a bill that would protect state employees from discrimination by sexual orientation, according to James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. The group issued a statement condemning Tuesday’s vote, saying it was the result of pressure by the Family Foundation.
“We are on the wrong side of history on this one,” said State Senator Donald McEachin, a Democrat, who supported Mr. Thorne-Begland’s candidacy and criticized the Republican leadership of the Senate for not putting his nomination up for a vote, after the House rejected him.
Mr. Thorne-Begland was being considered for a judgeship on the General District Court in Richmond, where he currently serves as a prosecutor. In a statement on Tuesday, he said only that he was “looking forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the city of Richmond and the great commonwealth of Virginia.”