Virginia’s First and Only Openly Gay Judge Faces Crucial Vote to Retain his Post

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January 14, 2013

Virginia’s first and only openly gay judge, whose nomination was originally rejected by the legislature and who was later appointed by the Circuit Court, is now facing confirmation interviews in order to keep his job.

Last summer, Virginia made headlines after the House of Delegates rejected Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the District Court of Richmond.

In blocking his nomination, many members cited his sexual orientation and discharge from the Navy for coming out 20 years ago under "Don't Ask Don't Tell" as an impediment to his ability to remain impartial and uphold the law. At the time, Republican Governor Bob McDonell, who nominated Thorne-Begland, urged the House to evaluate judicial nominations solely on their individual merit and not on the basis of sexual orientation.

Weeks later, Thorne-Begland was appointed to the District Court by the Richmond Circuit Court on an interim basis and is currently serving as the Commonwealth’s first openly gay member of the judiciary.

Now, in order to remain in his post, Judge Thorne-Begland must be certified as qualified by a legislative committee and then proceed to a vote by the General Assembly. While some of the legislators have publicly reevaluated their “no” votes and changed their position, many of Thorne-Begland’s most vocal opponents remain determined to prevent him from serving on the bench.

Committee hearings begin today and a full vote will likely be held this week. Now the Virginia Legislature has the opportunity to do the right thing and consider Judge Thorne-Begland on the basis of his qualifications, experience and job performance on the District Court over the last six months.