Virginia Republicans Block Confirmation Of Openly Gay Judge

Ordinarily, a story about the confirmation of a trial court judge in Virginia wouldn’t get my attention unless it was happening in one of the jurisdictions I usually practice in, but yesterday’s developments in the Virginia House of Delegates are yet another example of what’s wrong with the Republican Party:

Virginia’s General Assembly rejected a gay man for a Richmond judgeship early Tuesday, after conservatives argued that his support for gay marriage and challenge to the military’s now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made him unfit for the bench.

The House of Delegates voted 33 to 31, with 10 abstentions, to make Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland a General District Court judge in Richmond. He had needed 51 votes in the 100-member chamber to win appointment.

“He holds himself out as being married,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is running for U.S. Senate. Noting that gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, he said that Thorne-Begland’s “life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution.”

The Senate did not vote on the nomination itself, but Republicans killed it by passing it by for the day — the very last of this year’s General Assembly session. The decision to pass it by cleared the evenly divided body 20-19, with one Democrat, Yvonne B. Miller of Norfolk, not voting.

“The debate in the House of Delegates was homophobic and embarrassing and showed a disrespect to a chief deputy commonwealth attorney and decorated veteran who was honorably discharged,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Virginia’s first openly gay state senator. “It’s offensive that the Senate wouldn’t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote.”

Hours before the vote, in response to a reporter’s question, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said through a spokesman that a judicial nominee’s sexual orientation should not be an issue.

“The Governor believes candidates for judicial vacancies must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill,” said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. “No other factors should ever be considered and the Governor has long made clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government.”

Well, good for Governor McDonnell I suppose, but the fact that Marshall was able to get 32 of his fellow members to vote with him on this is just idiotic. The court that Thorne-Beland was being for considered is Virginia’s lowest-level trial court and has fairly limited jurisdiction:

There is a general district court in each city and county in Virginia. The general district court handles traffic violations, hears minor criminal cases known as misdemeanors, and conducts preliminary hearings for more serious criminal cases called felonies.

General district courts have exclusive authority to hear civil cases with claims of $4,500 or less and share authority with the circuit courts to hear cases with claims between $4,500 and $25,000. Examples of civil cases are landlord and tenant disputes, contract disputes and personal injury actions.

How Thorne-Begland’s sexuality or his personal opinions on same-sex marriage and gays in the military would  in any way have been relevant to any case that would’ve come before him is completely beyond me, and there’s something rather offensive in Marshall’s suggestion that such matters would ever intrude on a Judge’s integrity. It really isn’t any surprise that this would come from Marshall, though, he’s long been one of the most virulently anti-gay politicians in the Virginia legislature and was the co-sponsor of the 2006 Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in the Commonwealth. Once again, Bob Marshall has embarrassed his home state.

On a different level, I have to say that it disturbs me profoundly that this kind of idiotic nonsense is infecting the judicial confirmation process here. We don’t elect judges here in Virginia, and I think that’s a good thing. In most major jurisdictions now, the nominee presented to the General Assembly has already been through a rigorous, albeit informal, examination process conducted by the local County Bar Association(s) in which both lawyers and non-lawyers from the community participate. I don’t practice in Richmond, but everything I’ve heard about Thorne-Begland tells me that he is more than qualified for the position that he was nominated for. The fact that he was denied that position based mostly on the fact that he is gay is strikingly offensive.

This post was modified from the original, specifically the addition of the last paragraph.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:


    I can’t believe it. Just shocking.


  2. gawaine says:

    Bob Marshall, unfortunately, usually runs unopposed both in the primary and in the general election. Although I’m fairly conservative and generally vote Republican, I’d vote for virtually anyone who would just run against him.

  3. S.Lynn says:

    Today, a judgeship; tomorrow, the supreme court. Gotta block ’em where ya can.

  4. Bennett says:

    I think these chicken-sh*t Dems who don’t vote on these things are worse than the ones who would vote against him. Grow a spine losers.

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Let me guess… 45 years ago, this Marshall fellow was one of the young white guys with the horn rimmed glasses and skinny black ties that you see in photos from Life magazine harassing little black girls trying to walk to school.

  6. Septimius says:

    Kind of reminds me of when the Democrats in the U.S. Senate refused to vote to confirm Miguel Estrada because he’s Hispanic.

  7. John Cole says:

    Yeah, but Doug, when you get right down to it, both parties are the same and both sides do it.

  8. @Bennett: What? The people that abstained from voting were Republicans and an Independent that caucuses with the Republicans.

    In other news, Bob McDonnell is both toothless and irrelevant.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Septimius: Also, Janice Rogers Brown because she was guilty of being a black conservative woman, although a few years later, after Republicans took a large majority in the Senate, Rogers Brown finally was elevated to the D.C. Circuit.

    In any event, regarding this kerfuffle, I think Gov. McDonnell said it best:

    All I can tell you is what I’ve always said about judges, and that is that these ought to be merit-based selections solely based on a person’s skill, ability, fairness, judicial temperament……It’s only their ability to practice law and mete out fair decisions.

    Sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?

    That standard should be applied with equanimity by both political parties at all levels of the state and federal judicial systems, whether in connection with a gay prosecutor seeking a lower-level state judgeship or a conservative racial minority nominated to the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

  10. Dexter says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I certainly agree. It doesn’t matter to me about their personal life. I am mainly concerned that these judges will not run a revolving door, soft on crime style of justice that has now become common in our society and has resulted in the streets crawling with vicious criminals looking for innocent citizens to prey on. They need to be concerned about the victims, not the criminals.

  11. @Dexter:

    They need to be concerned about the victims, not the criminals.

    You mean the accused.

  12. al-Ameda says:


    Kind of reminds me of when the Democrats in the U.S. Senate refused to vote to confirm Miguel Estrada because he’s Hispanic.

    It’s fun to make stuff up, right?

  13. Septimius says:


    Leaked internal memos to Democratic Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin mention liberal interest groups’ desire to keep Estrada off the court partially because “he is Latino,” and because of his potential to be a future Supreme Court nominee.

  14. David M says:

    @Dexter: The crime rate has been falling for quite a while now, and the incarceration rate is much higher than it should be, so I’m not sure why you’re worried.

  15. David M says:

    @Septimius: Do you think the Democrats would have confirmed Miguel Estrada if he was not Latino, but had the same record?

    @Tsar Nicholas: It’s a little more likely that the Dems opposed Janice Rogers Brown because of her libertarian hostility to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

  16. Jeremy R says:

    On a different level, I have to say that it disturbs me profoundly that this kind of idiotic nonsense is infecting the judicial confirmation process here.

    I’d be curious as to what you think of Gov. Romney having signed the 2012 NOM Presidential Pledge, promising to make a litmus test for any federal or supreme court nominee and any Romney Attorney General, of rejecting “the idea our Founding Fathers inserted a right to gay marriage into our Constitution”?

  17. Becca says:

    I can’t wait til this “gay marriage” nonsense makes it to the Supreme Court….we all know that is where it is going to end up!! Then we finally don’t have to listen to the left trying to convince people that it is somehow a civil rights issue (oh, and the right to life isn’t??) because even though Elena Kagan would like for our Constitution to provide for gays to be allowed to marry, even she has acknowledged that it doesn’t. Poor stupid liberals

  18. Franklin says:

    @Dexter: Where the heck do you live?

  19. happyrobot says:


    1. If we take the strict textual approach that conservatives love, there is no right to marriage. Yet, I wonder how many heterosexuals would be up in arms about their constitutional rights should a state decide that no one should be permitted to marry.

    2. Leaving aside whether there is a right to marriage, and the extent to which that right is protected, the constitution is very clear that people enjoy equal protection of the laws. So long as the privilege/right of marriage is granted to some, equal protection demands that it be granted to all absent – in decidedly non-legal terms – a damn good reason. I’ve yet to hear a rational reason, let alone a persuasive one, to permit heterosexuals to marry but not grant the same privilege/right, on the same terms, to homosexuals.

    3. How exactly is gay marriage not a civil rights issue? We’re talking about civil marriage, not religious marriage. We’re talking about granting one segment of people rights – statutory or otherwise – that are not granted to others. The government treating people as equals seems to me the very epitome of civil rights.