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Virginia GOP blocks openly gay judicial nominee

(CBS/AP) RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia House of Delegates, voting in Tuesday's wee morning hours, has blocked an openly gay Richmond prosecutor from appointment to a general district judgeship in the city.

Tracy Thorne-Begland received 33 yes votes, 31 no votes - all from Republicans - and 10 abstentions in his bid to become what gay-rights advocates contend would be Virginia's first openly gay jurist.

A minimum of 51 votes in the 100-member House is required for election.

Thorne-Begland was the only candidate among scores of nominees to general district, circuit and juvenile and domestic relations judgeships not approved in the overwhelmingly GOP-ruled House.

Among his fiercest critics was Del. Robert G. Marshall, an outspokenly anti-gay Republican from Prince William who is among four candidates seeking the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination in next month's primary.

"I don't even think it's proper to put his name forward because of his behavior," said Marshall, according to CBS affiliate WTVR in Richmond. Marshall called Thorne-Begland "a homosexual activist," in a press release.

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring said today that Virginia lawmakers who scuttled the judicial nomination did so without any justification that he was unqualified for the bench, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"It's hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it's a form of bigotry," Herring said.

Thorne-Begland had at least some support in the GOP in Virginia, including from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who said: "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 persons, skill ability, fairness, judicial temperament. Issues of race, sex, sexual-orientation, wealth, none of those things should be factors in whether or not you put somebody on the bench."

The Washington Post reports Thorne-Begland is "a top state prosecutor in Richmond with a decade of courtroom experience...who has prosecuted dozens of homicides and other major felonies, runs one of the biggest commonwealth's attorney's offices in Virginia."

The court to which he was nominated "consists mainly of traffic violations, minor crimes and run-of-the-mill civil disputes over contracts and late rent payments," according to the Post

In a statement released in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Thorne-Begland said: "I would like to thank my sponsors, Senator Donald McEachin, and Delegates Jennifer McClellan and Manoli Loupassi and my family for their support. I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the city of Richmond and the great commonwealth of Virginia."

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