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UPDATE: Virginia Circuit Court judges temporarily appointed an openly gay prosecutor to the bench on Thursday, despite the widespread objections of conservative state lawmakers who had blocked his confirmation last month.
The Washington Post explains that the court was able to bypass the normal confirmation process because the state's General Assembly is not currently in session. The appointment of Tracy Thorne-Begland to the Richmond District Court will last only until lawmakers return to work. Nonetheless, he becomes the first openly gay judge in the history of the state.
Virginia's lower chamber denied the judgeship to Thorne-Begland last month on the final day of the General Assembly session as conservative lawmakers voiced fears that the former Navy fighter pilot's work with a gay rights group would mean that he would push an activist agenda from the bench. He came up 18 votes shy of the majority threshold he needed in the 100-member Virginia House of Delegates, despite previously garnering the bipartisan support of the necessary state Senate and House panels.
Earlier this week, Richmond’s five largest law firm urged the city's Circuit Court to circumvent the legislature and appoint Thorne-Begland.
Tuesday, May 15: Virginia lawmakers on Tuesday denied a judgeship to an openly gay prosecutor and former Navy fighter pilot. Their rationale? He would push an activist agenda.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch explains that 45-year-old Tracy Thorne-Begland's nomination to the bench of the General District Court in Richmond had already garnered the bipartisan backing of the necessary state Senate and House committees. However, ultimately, it failed to win the needed support of a majority of the Virginia House of Delegates' 100 members.
When push came to shove early Tuesday morning, only 25 Democrats and eight Republicans voted in favor of confirmation. Meanwhile, 31 Republicans voted against it and 10 others abstained. A bipartisan group of 26 lawmakers didn't vote at all. The Washington Post explains that state Senate Republicans then "killed it by passing it by for the day—the very last of this year’s General Assembly session."
Thorne-Begland, who would have been the state's first openly gay judge, was honorably discharged from the Navy two decades ago after coming out in a challenge to the military's since-repealed "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He spent the past dozen years as a prosecutor in the court he was nominated to, and also served on the board of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group, the New York Times reports.
Virginia’s first openly gay state senator, Adam P. Ebbin, a Democrat, told the Post that the lawmakers' decision against confirming Thorne-Begland was "homophobic and embarrassing" and that it was "offensive that the Senate wouldn’t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote."
The defeat came despite bipartisan support that the attorney and decorated officer had received in the wake of conservative groups’ recent questioning of whether he was fit for the post since he lives with his partner, and above all, supports gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia, as the Times-Dispatch notes.
Meanwhile, Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall, who is also running for the U.S. Senate, explained conservatives' concerns, telling the Post that Thorne-Begland’s "life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution" because "he holds himself out as being married."