Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated his friend and chief legal counsel, Andrew McDonald, to the state Supreme Court Thursday.

McDonald, a former state senator and co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee until 2011, will be the first openly gay Supreme Court justice to serve on the court if his nomination is approved by the legislature.

Malloy, who married McDonald and his husband, Charles Gray, in 2009, said McDonald has an “exceptional ability to understand, analyze, research and evaluate legal issues.” He said those skills will allow him to be a great jurist.

For most of his legal career, McDonald served as a litigation partner for Pullman & Comley LLC, where he chaired the firm’s appellate practice. Malloy asked him to leave private practice twice to join him in public service.  The first time, MacDonald served as director of legal affairs and corporation counsel for the city of Stamford from 1999 through 2002. In 2010, after Malloy was elected governor, McDonald was appointed chief legal counsel.

Malloy said he’s seen McDonald work under intense pressure. Much of that pressure was applied by Malloy, the governor joked.

“Regardless of the circumstances he always approaches his work with a steadfastness and a steadiness of purpose,” Malloy said of McDonald as the two stood at a podium in the Old Judiciary Room at the state Capitol.

McDonald, who as co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee often grilled judicial nominees, said his only regret is that his parents, Anne and Alex, weren’t around to celebrate the moment. His mother, Anne, a former state representative, passed away in 2007 and his father Alex, passed earlier this year. McDonald choked up a little as he imagined them holding hands in heaven.

Michael Lawlor, the governor’s chief criminal justice adviser, said he’s confident McDonald will sail through the nomination process. “I don’t think there is one question he hasn’t answered in public,” Lawlor, who co-chaired the Judiciary Committee with McDonald, said.

McDonald’s nomination was applauded by Republican leadership in the state Senate.

“While Andrew and I have had considerable political differences over the years, I have always respected his commitment to public service and the law,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, said. “He is qualified and I am confident he will uphold the state constitution and carry out his responsibilities as a Supreme Court Justice with the highest degree of impartiality and integrity.”

Malloy nominated McDonald to fill the vacancy left by Justice Lubbie Harper Jr., who turned 70 in November. Supreme Court Justice C. Ian McLachlan, who turned 70 in June, retired and returned to private practice. Malloy said he will be looking to fill that vacancy soon as well.

McDonald is the second person to leave the Malloy administration as it heads into the second half of its four-year term. Earlier this month, Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, left Malloy’s office causing speculation the governor won’t be finishing out his term. Some have speculated that he will join the Obama administration, but his staff continues to say there’s no validity to those rumors.