Just a week after we celebrated the President's announcement of his support for marriage equality - and his recognition of the sacrifices of brave gay and lesbian service members among his reasons for doing so - we have been reminded that when it comes to honoring the diversity that has helped build this nation, we still have a ways to go.
Twenty years ago, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) led the charge, along with Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), to keep gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. In fact, Warner joined Nunn in belittling the service and sacrifice of gay patriots like Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy fighter pilot who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1992 against the discriminatory policy that Warner was advocating. Mr. Thorne-Begland was right back then to challenge the policy that the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted, and eventually Congress and our country came to agree with him.
In December 2010, the new Warner in the Senate, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), along with Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), voted with 63 of their colleagues, including eight Republicans, to repeal the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) ban. Clearly our country has moved away from this shameful policy against gay and lesbian troops who were fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, some of whom are buried today in Arlington cemetery and in other national cemeteries around the country.
But sadly, some of the good old boys in the Virginia General Assembly have not moved on, and once again, Mr. Thorne-Begland finds himself in the middle of controversy as opponents of our progress cling to the past and attempt to make him pay a price for his advocacy of equality. As The Washington Post pointed out yesterday in its coverage of the ugly and mean-spirited vote in Richmond against Mr. Thorne-Begland, you can be a gun-rights activist in the old Dominion and get a judgeship in Virginia, but you can't be a gay rights advocate and get approved by the the same assembly in Richmond.
Virginia is much better than the thirty-one members of its Assembly, who voted against this good and qualified man. Virginia, like the rest of the country, supports all of its troops, including the gay and lesbian ones. Mr. Thorne-Begland was wronged by his country when he was kicked out of the Navy that he loved soley because of his sexual orientation.
So, it was especially heart breaking this week to see this good man wronged once again, because he stood up twenty years ago in Washington for equality. This seasoned, professional prosecutor is far more qualified to be on the Fourth Circuit federal bench in Richmond or be appointed as the next U.S. Attorney for Virginia than to sit on the relatively minor court to which he has been rejected.
But what's perhaps more amazing than the injustice visited on Mr. Thorne-Begland, is that a man of his talents would agree to serve in this capacity. Talk about being overly qualified, but it just goes to show that he is a man of integrity, who simply wants to serve. If the gang of thirty-one in Richmond will not revisit their vote next year, President Obama should seriously consider Mr. Thorne-Begland for a federal judicial post, where he can better use his considerable talents.
But, first, let's hope the good people of Virginia, including its major employers, will let the gang of thirty-one know that their vote is not representative of the great Commonwealth. I have no doubt Mr. Thorne-Belgand would serve with much distinction if given the opportunity to. It's not too late to right this mean-spirited wrong.