The Richmond Circuit Court has appointed openly gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland to the General District Court bench despite opposition from delegates claiming the decision was made to further the "pro-gay agenda."
"I am humbled by the circuit court's decision," Thorne-Begland commented after being appointed Thursday to the 13th Judicial District in the Manchester courthouse in South Richmond.
"I look forward to serving the citizens of the city of Richmond as a jurist and, over the coming months, I hope that my service provides comfort to all Virginians that I remain committed to the faithful application of the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States of America," he added, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Some, however, like Virginia delegate Robert Marshall, have spoken against Thorne-Begland's appointment, and called the prosecutor an "aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda."
"You could preside as a district judge for a marriage of two guys if he wanted to, in violation of the law," Marshall was quoted in an interview last month by Politico. "Moreover, if you have a bar room fight between a homosexual and heterosexual, I'm concerned about possible bias."
Thorne-Begland, 45, was initially turned down for the judge's position after receiving a 33-31 House vote in May in favor of his appointment, but fell short of the 51 votes needed for election. On Thursday, however, he was approved to fill a vacancy spot on the bench, and will start at his new position on July 1. He will be the first openly gay judge in Virginia.
This week, five of Richmond's most prominent private attorneys, representing politically influential law firms, sent a letter to the Richmond Circuit Court expressing support for Thorne-Begland. On Wednesday, an internal Republican memo surfaced that argued againt accusations made by several Republicans with military backgrounds over Thorne-Begland's military record as a Navy flight officer.
The memo, written by 22-year Navy veteran and military law attorney Del. Richard L. Morris, R-Isle of Wight, argued that Thorne-Begland had not violated military law or his oath in publicly stating his opposition to the Army's policy, which at the time did not allow openly gay men or women to serve in the armed forces.
Those in support of Thorne-Begland have pointed to his strong legal record and said that they believe he will be a good judge.
"I have always thought he would be an outstanding jurist," said Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, Thorne-Begland's sponsor in the House. "And I'm sure he will be."
"I applaud the circuit court judges for recognizing Mr. Thorne-Begland's skill, qualifications and competency and putting aside bigotry, prejudice and false excuses," added Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, Thorne-Begland's sponsor in the Senate.
Others, like Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, which upholds the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, have said they will be watching the new judge's actions closely.
"As a member of the court, he now has the responsibility to uphold the Constitution, not apply his own personal, political agenda or viewpoint," said Cobb. "Because of our efforts, he will be watched very closely in the coming years, particularly if he is elevated to any higher court in the future."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been supportive of Thorne-Begland's appointment, and wished him well.
"The governor believes Mr. Thorne-Begland is well-qualified to serve on the bench. He congratulates him on the appointment," said Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor.