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GOP state senator comes out of closet in aftermath of drunk driving arrest

March 8, 2010 | 11:38 am

A Republican state senator from Bakersfield came out of the closet in a radio interview Monday morning in the wake of a report that he had been at a gay club in Sacramento before he was arrested on drunk driving charges last week.

Sen. Roy Ashburn has been on personal leave since his arrest early Wednesday morning in his state car not far from the Capitol. The arrest touched off rampant speculation about his sexuality after a Sacramento television station reported he had been at a gay nightclub in Sacramento just before he was pulled over by California Highway Patrol officers. But Ashburn had declined to comment.

He broke his silence in an interview on Bakersfield radio station KERN (1180 AM) with talk-show host Inga Barks on Monday morning, saying the incident had led to "restless nights" and "soul searching." Ashburn said he had "brought this on myself." When he told Barks he owed his constituents an explanation, she responded, "Do you want me to ask you … the question, or do you want to just tell people?"

"I am gay,'' Ashburn answered, "and so I … those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long. But I am gay. But it is something that is personal and …. I felt with my heart that being gay didn't affect -- wouldn't affect -- how I did my job." He did not express any resentment that his sexuality had come under scrutiny, saying, "Through my own actions, I made my personal life public."

The episode, widely discussed on Internet blogs, in newspapers and on TV, spurred charges of hypocrisy against the senator from gay-rights activists who noted that Ashburn, a divorced father of four, had voted several times against legislation favoring gays and lesbians.

On Sept. 1, 2005, Ashburn voted against a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriages in California. The bill was later vetoed by the governor. Ashburn also was among the minority in voting against legislation last year that designated May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day.

"It is unfortunate he helped spread the bigotry that forced him to stay in the closet," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a group supporting gay marriage. "We hope he now takes this opportunity to educate people in his district and throughout the state that his sexual orientation is irrelevant.''

Ashburn defended his votes against gay-rights legislation, saying he was reflecting how the voters in his district felt.

"I believe firmly that my responsibility is to my constituents," Ashburn said.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento