The lawmakers rejected the nomination of gay Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland early Tuesday, after social conservative members of the Republican-dominated House conducted a last-minute lobbying campaign against his nomination, arguing his sexual orientation would influence his rulings from the bench, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reported.
Thorne-Begland's boss, Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring, said Thorne-Begland, who has been a prosecutor in the General District Court in Richmond, was a fine "man, father, lawyer Navy pilot, and would have been an outstanding judge," and the rejection of his nomination to the court "casts a definite pall on the state."
"It's hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it's a form of bigotry," Herring told reporters Tuesday.
Thorne-Begland's nomination had been endorsed by Republican and Democratic supporters, and by courts committees in both houses of Virginia's legislature, the Family Foundation and Republican Del. Robert Marshall helped lead the opposition to Thorne-Begland, warning that his sexual orientation might influence his decisions as a judge, the newspaper said.
Democratic Del. Mark Sickles said the rejection of Thorne-Begland's nomination "shows that discrimination based on sexual orientation is alive and well in Virginia."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters judicial nominations "ought to be merit-based selections solely based on a person's skill, ability, fairness, judicial temperament."
Thorne-Begland was a U.S. Navy officer when he disclosed his homosexuality two decades ago to challenge the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.