March 1, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay Va. judge sworn in

Tracy Thone-Begland, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Tracy Thorne-Begland during his official swearing in in Richmond on Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Virginia’s first openly gay judge was officially sworn in on Friday.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s investiture took place inside the Richmond City Council’s chambers. The former prosecutor’s 8-year-old twins Chance and Logan straightened their father’s black robe as his partner, Michael Thorne-Begland, looked on. Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker, state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico,) state Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones are among the more than 200 people who attended the ceremony.

“It was a very moving ceremony,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade.

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates last May blocked Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the Richmond General Court after state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) alleged he misrepresented himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s. Thorne-Begland, who came out during a 1992 “Nightline” interview in which he criticized the Pentagon’s ban on gay servicemembers, received an honorable discharge two years later.

The Richmond General Court last June appointed Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers failed to fill the vacancy. The House of Delegates in January approved his judgeship in a 66-28 vote.

Thorne-Begland, who is a former Equality Virginia boardmember, did not return the Blade’s request for comment. He responded to questions about his previous advocacy before a House of Delegates committee in January approved his judgeship.

“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 said. “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.”

Ebbin agreed.

“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,” he said. “It’s an exciting day for Virginia.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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