Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), second from left, greets Sen. Gil Cedillo… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)
Reporting from Sacramento — A Republican state senator from conservative Bakersfield said Monday that he is homosexual, days after a report that he had been at a gay nightclub in Sacramento before being arrested on drunk driving charges while behind the wheel of his state car last week.
Sen. Roy Ashburn returned to work after being on leave since his arrest early Wednesday not far from the Capitol. The incident had touched off speculation about Ashburn's sexual orientation because a Sacramento television station said it occurred after he left a gay club. And Ashburn drew fire from activists for voting against gay-rights legislation.
The senator, who avoided reporters in the Senate chamber Monday afternoon, broke his silence in an interview on Bakersfield radio station KERN-AM (1180) in the morning, saying the episode had led to "restless nights" and "soul searching."
Ashburn told radio host Inga Barks that 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. "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.
"Through my own actions," said Ashburn, a divorced father of four, "I made my personal life public."
The arrest, widely discussed on Internet blogs, in newspapers and on TV, brought accusations of hypocrisy against the senator.
In 2005, Ashburn, like all but one other Republican in the Senate, voted against a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in California. The bill was later vetoed by the governor.
Ashburn also voted no, along with most of his GOP colleagues, on legislation passed last year that designated May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day, in honor of the slain gay-rights leader.
"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 said his votes "reflect the wishes of the people in my district."
The senator announced months ago that he would not seek reelection this year. He had been under fire from conservative leaders in his district for voting with Democrats a year ago to approve tax increases.
"His recent drunk driving incident certainly adds to the concerns about his personal responsibility and his regard for the taxpayers whose vehicle he was driving," said Martin Bertram, president of the nonprofit Republican Assembly of Kern County.
He said the senator's revelation that he is gay "will not win him favor among conservatives," but he did not see Ashburn's past votes as hypocritical.
Ashburn faces arraignment next month in Sacramento County Superior Court on two misdemeanor counts involving driving under the influence of alcohol.
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