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Black Openly Gay Judge Would Be Federal Bench's First

Darrin P. Gayles, a Florida state circuit judge, appears to be on track to become the nation's first openly gay black man to serve on the federal bench.

President Obama on Wednesday nominated Gayles, a former assistant U.S. attorney, to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

His nomination, among four made by Obama, comes months after GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida used his home-state prerogative to block the president's nomination of circuit Judge William Thomas of Miami, who is also gay and black, for the same position. Rubio initially backed Thomas' nomination.

That reversal appears unlikely to be Gayles' fate.

In an emailed statement, Rubio said he welcomes the president's nomination, adding that: "I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee."

Rubio, however, said he was disappointed that the president took a pass on Republican finalists for the bench who were "jointly suggested by Sen. [Bill] Nelson and myself." Nelson is a Florida Democrat.

Last year, Rubio withdrew his support for Thomas' nomination, citing concerns about his fitness for the position. He questioned sentences the judge meted out in a hit-and-run case, and Thomas' decision to disallow a murder case confession because he found the suspects hadn't been properly informed of their Miranda rights.

Thomas' supporters asserted that he was being blocked from the higher bench because he's black and openly gay.

"We hope Sen. Rubio doesn't change his mind on [Gayles] as well," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's largest LGBT rights organizations.

Steve Thai of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, which works to get gay Americans elected to office and appointed to federal positions, lauded Gayles' nomination.

"We commend the administration for nominating a qualified jurist who will also add diversity to the federal bench," Thai said in a statement. "If confirmed, Judge Gayles will be the nation's first black, openly gay federal judge, and he will reflect the talent and commitment that exists in communities that are underrepresented in public service."

According to a bio released by the White House Wednesday, Gayles has served as a circuit judge since 2011 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. He previously was a county judge, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and assistant district counsel at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

He graduated from Howard University and received his law degree from George Washington University.

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