House of Delegates confirms first openly gay judge

Tracy Thorne-Begland
Tracy Thorne-Begland

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The House of Delegates confirmed Tracy Thorne-Begland's nomination for a judgeship, less than a year after his bid was voted down.

66 delegates voted in favor of his nomination, 28 voted against it and one abstained. Thorne-Begland needed 51 votes for confirmation. The vote is the first in favor of an openly gay judge in Virginia's House of Delegates history.

Thorne-Begland's nomination was defeated in the House last year in a late-night vote due to concerns over his past advocacy for gay rights. He was later appointed to an interim judgeship in Richmond Manchester General District Court.

At that time, several delegates argued Thorne-Begland's denouncing of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 1992 gave them concerns that he couldn't serve as an impartial judge. On Monday at questioning by the House Justice Committee, Thorne-Begland brought a copy of the military oath with him.

"I didn't violate my oath. I didn't violate Navy regulations and I never violated an order of my commanding officer," he said. The panel voted unanimously to approve his nomination after 45 minutes of questioning.

One of the judge's biggest supporters, Delegate Manoli Loupassi tells NBC12, "It really was about whether or not a person is qualified to do a job and I think he absolutely is qualified."

For several months the judge says he's worked to clarify the misinformation about his past as a gay man in the military.

Delegate Jim Massie of Henrico changed his vote on Tuesday.

"I met with Tracy over the summer and he came to me with the facts and they were confirmed by independent sources," he said.  "He did not lie on his application he did not violate his uniform code of military justice and he did fulfill his commitment to the military."

Other delegates, like Bob Marshall still voted ‘no' the second time around. 

"The members who switched are going to have a hard time explaining this to the Republican base," he said.  "The conservatives are not going to be very pleased about this"

Supporters, which include the entire Richmond delegation, say the correct information is now out there and it's time to let Judge Thorne Begland do his job.

"People got the information they needed in order to make a learned decision so I think that's what they did," says Loupassi.

Tuesday's vote allows Thorne-Begland to remain on the bench beyond the interim judgeship in Richmond Manchester General District Court.  His term starts in February for six years.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.