Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates rejected Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former Navy pilot and top Virginia prosecutor, for a seat on Virginia’s lowest ranking trial court because, in the words of Del. Bob Marshall (R-VA), Thorne-Begland’s gay “lifestyle is exactly contrary to” his obligation to uphold the state constitution. On CNN this morning, Marshall doubled-down on this view, explaining that he blocked Thorne-Begland because the judicial candidate had the audacity to serve his country while gay:
MARSHALL: [Thorne-Begland] had to misstate his background in order to be received into the military in the late 1980s. There was a specific question, “are you a homosexual?” He had to say no. He took an oath of office which he had to defy. . . . Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks never took an oath of office that they broke. Sodomy is not a civil right. It’s not the same as the Civil Rights Movement. You have to look at the past, and, in fact, look, in late 2011 he was critical of the, you know, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. He criticized our attorney general simply for explaining what the law of Virginia is with respect to certain protected classes.
First of all, “sodomy,” as Marshall so quaintly puts it, is a civil right. That was the holding of Lawrence v. Texas, which established that consenting adults have a right to be free from government interference in their “private sexual conduct.”
Additionally, while it may in fact be true that Thorne-Begland once misrepresented his sexuality in order to serve his country in the United States Navy, it is important to understand exactly what he signed up for when he told this potential lie. Tracy Thorne-Begland was a Navy pilot, and his superiors did nothing to hide from him the dangers inherent in this job. When Thorne-Begland was stationed at Virginia Beach, he was informed that 25 percent of pilots are killed in action over the course of a 20 year career. This was the job he might have lied in order to sign up for — to risk his life every day in defense of his county. Bob Marshall, by contrast, never served a day in the United States military.
Nor, apparently, did Marshall familiarize himself with civil rights history during all that time he spent not serving his country. Martin Luther King may not have taken an oath of office, but his entire career was rooted in a campaign to peacefully defy unconstitutional laws. And while there is some dispute over whether Rosa Parks’ famous decision to keep her seat on a Montgomery bus violated a city ordinance or merely a racist custom, her refusal to stand is widely perceived as an act of civil disobedience that triggered a movement of opposition to Jim Crow laws. A judge’s oath is to the Constitution, and Thorne-Begland acted with the greatest respect for our founding document when he fought back against the unconstitutional and now-repealed Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy.