Attorney Becomes Virginia's First Out Judge — For a While
Tracy Thorne-Begland is becoming Virginia’s first openly gay judge after all.
A month after the Virginia General Assembly rejected his judicial nomination, the judges of the Richmond Circuit Court voted Thursday to appoint Thorne-Begland to fill a vacancy on the city’s General District Court, as they have authority to do, The Washington Post reports. The appointment, however, lasts only until the next legislative session, which convenes in 2013, when lawmakers will have the option of undoing the action. His term begins July 1.
The nomination of Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran and prosecuting attorney, caused controversy in the legislature, with some conservatives arguing that he is not qualified because he is in a same-sex relationship and was an activist against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Bob Marshall, a Republican member of the House of Delegates, “compared him to a polygamist during the House debate and said that because Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, Thorne-Begland’s ‘life [is] a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution,’” the Post notes.
Marshall decried the court’s temporary appointment of Thorne-Begland. “I think it’s highly imprudent and arrogant on their part,” Marshall said. “I hope Virginia understands what’s going on here: They’re contesting the authority of the General Assembly. ... This is an act of defiance on their part. When appointed officials get in fights with elected officials, they invariably lose.” He also said that if Thorne-Begland engaged in gay sex while in the Navy, he’s a felon. “Sodomy is still a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, today, as we speak,” Marshall told the Post.
Still, Virginia’s notably right-wing governor, Bob McDonnell, praised Thorne-Begland’s appointment, even though he once questioned if gay people could serve as judges because they were violating the state’s sodomy law (now invalidated). “The Governor believes Mr. Thorne-Begland is well-qualified to serve on the bench,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said in an email to the Post. “He congratulates him on the appointment.”
Thorne-Begland issued a statement saying, “I am humbled by the Circuit Court’s decision. I look forward to serving the citizens of the City of Richmond as a jurist, and over the coming months, I hope that my service provides comfort to all Virginians that I remain committed to the faithful application of the laws and Constitutions of Virginia and the United States of America.”