Virginia House Says, "LGBT Judges Need Not Apply!"

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May 15, 2012

The Virginia House of Delegates voted yesterday to block an openly gay Richmond prosecutor from becoming a general district court judge. All the other judicial nominees, more than three dozen, were voted through by the House. The nominee would have been the first openly gay judge in Virginia history.

Many in the Virginia House justified their “no” votes based on an expressed fear that the prosecutor’s sexual orientation would influence his judicial decisions. Others called the nominee “an activist for the homosexual agenda” and voiced objections that his previous personal advocacy, primarily related to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” would interfere with his ability to remain impartial.

This is what discrimination based on sexual orientation often looks like. Bias must not be tolerated in any part of our society and certainly not in the halls of justice. This attack on judges for personal characteristics like sexual orientation is nothing new. It is part of the same strategy used by antigay groups that seek to undermine the integrity of our courts by bullying individual judges for issuing decisions with which they disagree. This tactic was on full display in the personal assault on Judge Vaughn Walker after his ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional, where anti-marriage groups claimed Judge Walker could not possibly be impartial because he was gay. The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals forcefully rejected this offensive claim.

The ability of judges to exercise independent judgment is fundamental to a fair and functioning court system. The men and women who seek to serve on the bench deserve an assessment of their qualifications on the basis of their individual experience, integrity, and commitment to the rule of law. Refusal to consider a qualified candidate based on his or her race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other factor related to identity, is not only unfair to the individual, but injects a destructive bias into the judicial branch of government, which is charged with administering justice to all Americans.

Tell us what you think about the actions of the Virginia House of Delegates, and learn more about what you can do to protect fair courts.