Driven by what he calls “a sense of service to your country for a higher purpose,” Tracy Thorne-Begland served for 20 years as a Navy fighter pilot. Following an honorable discharge and after earning his law degree, the married father of two has worked as a prosecutor for the last 12 years in Richmond, Va.
Earlier this year, Thorne-Begland was nominated to become a district court judge in Richmond, a position that requires confirmation by the Virginia General Assembly. His sponsor in the House of Delegates, a Republican from Richmond, calls him “absolutely well-qualified” for the judgeship.
“He’s been doing his job and he’s been doing it well. He’s been protecting us from criminals,” Delegate Manoli Loupassi said. “I have known this man for a very long time and I believe that he absolutely will carry out the duties of his office in a dignified way and a correct way.”
Last night, however, Thorne-Begland’s nomination was rejected, falling 18 votes short of the 51 needed for confirmation.
Why? Because Thorne-Begland is gay and unapologetically out of the closet, living with the man he considers his spouse along with their two adopted children. Social conservatives in Virginia launched a crusade against his nomination, and in an early-morning vote, Virginia Republicans bowed to that pressure.
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, an outspokenly anti-gay Republican, led the attack on Thorne-Begland, focusing on a charge that the former pilot lied about his sexual orientation when he joined the Navy.
“That statement asked the question as to personal sexual behavior: Are you a homosexual,” Marshall said. “To get into the military, Mr. Tracy Thorne-Begland had to sign a statement, ‘No, I am not.’”
According to Marshall and others, Thorne-Begland forfeited his right to serve as a judge even in a low-level city court by being outspoken on political issues such as gay rights. Of course, two other nominees who were confirmed by the House were former state legislators who had also taken public stances on issues.
– Jay Bookman