Senior Democrats in Virginia have cried foul after Republicans in the general assembly moved to block the appointment of what would have been the state’s first openly gay judge.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a prominent local prosecutor, was chosen to run for a vacancy in the Richmond circuit court, but a vote in the House of Delegates was rejected after a heated debate in which Republicans accused him of having broken military code by coming out on television when he was in the navy twenty years ago.

Mr Thorne-Begland needed 51 votes to be appointed for the job, but only managed to obtain 33. 31 voted against, 26 stayed at home, and 10 abstained.

Micheal Herring, Mr Thorne Begland’s boss, moved to denounce the rejection immediately, saying: “I’ve known Tracy for years, he’s a good man, a good father, a good lawyer and he was a good navy pilot. He would have been an outstanding judge and for the life of me I can’t understand why folks voted against his nomination.”

Gay rights activists in Virginia have drawn attention to the intense campaign run by an anti-gay group called Family Foundation against Mr Thorne-Begland. Equality Virginia, an LGBT advocacy group, has accused the Foundation of “fear mongering and shrill personal attacks,” something against which it has hit back with similar comments against the ‘liberal left.’

The House of Delegates is now adjourned for the rest of the year, and it is thought that Mr Thorne-Begland might be re-nominated when the next session begins in January. The candidate himself has yet to speak on the matter.