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Congratulations to Tracy Thorne-Begland
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/04/13
Last updated on: 03/04/13
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Judge Thorne-Beglund takes the oath of office.

With his partner and their twin boys watching, Tracy Thorne-Begland took the oath of office as Richmond Circuit Court judge inside the Richmond City Council chambers on March 1, 2013. More than 200 people, including Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker, and several state legislators, attended the ceremony.

As the Washington Blade reported, Thorne-Begland, a former prosecutor, traveled a long way to this triumphant moment.

In May 2012, Virginia's Republican-controlled House of Delegates overwhelmingly rejected his nomination to the Richmond General Court after intense lobbying from right-wing and anti-gay groups. He needed 51 votes in the House to be confirmed, but received only 33.

The rejection was a surprise since Thorne-Begland had strong bipartisan support, and was supported unanimously by the Richmond delegation. It was attributed to the allegation by homophobic Delegate Bob Marshall that the former fighter pilot had misrepresented himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s.

In the debate on the House floor, Thorne-Begland, an openly gay prosecutor who was discharged as a Naval officer in 1992, was subjected to outrageous abuse by legislators, who accused him of military insubordination and who mocked his marriage.

As a 25-year-old Annapolis graduate, Thorne-Begland had an exemplary record as a Navy Lieutenant and pilot when he spoke out against the ban on gay servicemembers. He was the first officer to voluntarily out himself as a protest against the discriminatory regulations.

The House of Delegates' rejection of the eminently qualified prosecutor created a firestorm in the national media because it was such an blatant instance of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Mike Herring, Commonwealth Attorney for Richmond, said of Thorne-Begland at the time, "He's an outstanding lawyer and he would have been just as good a judge, and I can't imagine any reason for his rejection other than his sexual orientation."

Rebuking the action of the legislature, the Richmond General Court in June appointed Thorne-Begland on a temporary basis. In January, in response to public outrage over their actions in 2012, the House of Delegates reversed themselves and approved his judgeship in a 66-28 vote.

Thorne-Begland told a House of Delegates committee in January, "Since I left the military, I've worked with Equality Virginia and I advocated for such radical things as expanding the right to health care for someone to be able to get insurance for their partner."

He added, "I'm not going to lie and say that I don't one day want the opportunity to marry my partner. We married 15 years ago in an Episcopal church across the street from our house. I'd like that to happen, but that's not my role as a judge. I will well and dutifully follow the rules, the laws and the regulations. I know that when I put on a black robe and even when I take that robe off and go home that I am held to a different standard of an everyday citizen."

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, applauded Thorne-Begland after his swearing in ceremony.

"Upon the House of Delegates taking a second look at his nomination, we're glad the decision was made on his qualifications as a candidate and not on who he is or who he loves," he said. "That's what we hope for any LGBT Virginian. We congratulate him on this next step in his career."

State Senator Adam Ebbin said, "I've known Tracy Thorne-Begland for many years and I'm confident that his tenure will break down stereotypes and make it clear that a gay person can not only adequately perform at the highest levels and excel in those circumstances. It's an exciting day for Virginia."

In the video below, Richmond's WTVR reports on Thorne-Begland's investiture.

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