House confirms openly gay judge

By Allison Landry
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates voted 66-28 today to confirm the permanent appointment of Tracy Thorne-Begland as a judge of Richmond’s Manchester General District Court. He is the first openly gay judge to serve in Virginia.

The House had blocked Thorne-Begland’s nomination last spring. Republican legislators previously argued against his appointment, saying his sexual orientation might affect his judicial decisions.

Social conservatives also had expressed concerns that Thorne-Begland, a former Navy pilot, had violated military oath under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule prohibiting gay service members from disclosing their sexual orientation.

Last year, Thorne-Begland fell 18 votes short in the House of the 51 votes needed for confirmation.

This time around, the tables have turned. Many Republicans who last year abstained from voting on Thorne-Begland’s appointment, such as Delegate Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah, changed their minds and supported his appointment.

Delegate Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, sponsored Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the bench last year and today. He said the judge is qualified and has done a very good job serving the commonwealth.

Michael Hammer, a Virginia Beach lawyer who is active in advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said today’s vote was both uplifting and unexpected.

“I am very pleased with the results, but I am also somewhat surprised that the Republicans in the House were willing to defy the Family Foundation,” Hammer said. The foundation is a Christian-based organization in Virginia that raised the issue of Thorne-Begland’s sexual orientation during last year’s nomination.

“It tends to be that in Virginia, if you’re a Republican, you typically do what the Family Foundation wants or [they] have you challenged in a primary. But fortunately, we won 66 votes in the House,” Hammer added.

Thorne-Begland, who had received a temporary appointment to the judgeship in June, will serve a full six-year term on the Richmond General District Court bench as a result of today’s vote.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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