RICHMOND -- U.S. Senate candidate George Allen on Tuesday distanced himself from a Republican rival who successfully blocked the judicial nomination of a Richmond prosecutor because the prosecutor is gay.
The issue of gay rights roiled Virginia's Senate race after Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, one of four candidates running against Allen in the Republican Senate primary, convinced the House of Delegates to block Richmond Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland's appointment to the 13th General District Court earlier Tuesday.
House Republicans defeated Thorne-Begland's nomination after Marshall argued that the former Naval officer, who was honorably discharged after coming out on national television, could not be trusted to uphold the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage because he's an advocate for gay rights. Thorne-Begland and his partner are raising twins in Richmond.
"Judicial qualifications, not sexual orientation, should be the criteria for judicial selection," said Allen, a former governor trying to recapture his old Senate seat.
"Decisions on judges should be merit-based selections based on a person's skill, ability, fairness, judicial temperament, and fidelity to the Constitution and laws," Allen said. "Judges should apply the law, not invent it or impose their own political views."
Allen was not alone in criticizing his own party. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, an Allen backer who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate on a ticket led by Mitt Romney, also condemned fellow Republicans for blocking the nomination of the man who would have become the state's first openly gay judge.
"If anyone voted against Mr. Thorne-Begland because of his sexual orientation," McDonnell said, "that would be very disappointing and unacceptable."
Marshall, a co-sponsor of the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, questioned whether Thorne-Begland could be trusted to live up to his judicial oath to protect the state constitution given that he violated his military oath by participating in public political debates over gay rights. Thorne-Begland came out in 1993 to protest the implementation of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Thorne-Begland's judicial nomination was defeated on a 33-31 vote in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. He needed a majority of the 100 delegates to be appointed. Dozens of lawmakers left the House chamber before the vote was called, and about 10 others abstained during the vote. Thorne-Begland was the only judicial nominee to face such opposition.
The campaign of Democrat Tim Kaine, Allen's likely November opponent, called the House's vote "discrimination."
"Gov. Kaine believes that the only standard for selecting judges should be their qualifications," spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said. "And he has a long record of breaking down barriers and fighting for equal rights."