The self-outing of state Sen. Roy Ashburn, who confessed that he is gay on a right-wing talk-radio program Monday, was undoubtedly agonizing -- not only for Ashburn but for his family (the divorced senator has four daughters). But although we sympathize with Ashburn and hope he can turn his life in a more positive direction following this revelation, there's really no excusing his political hypocrisy.
Ashburn, a Republican from conservative Bakersfield, has a deeply anti-gay voting record. He has opposed nearly every bill on gay rights that has appeared during his 14 years in the Legislature, including measures to allow same-sex marriage, recognize out-of-state gay marriages or designate a day in May to honor gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk.
Ashburn was arrested on charges of driving under the influence last week. Soon afterward, a Sacramento TV station reported that he had been at a gay club before his arrest. That led to accusations from gay-rights groups that the senator wasn't just living a lie, he was a hypocrite for opposing homosexual equality. Ashburn responded to that during his on-air confession on radio station KERN-AM (1180): "My votes reflect the wishes of the people in my district."
That's not an entirely unreasonable defense. After all, if every politician who ever voted contrary to his or her personal beliefs in order to please constituents were branded a hypocrite, you'd be hard-pressed to find one without a scarlet "H." Yet Ashburn's seeming concern for the will of the people is highly selective. In February 2009, he was one of six Republicans in the Legislature who approved a budget deal that raised taxes and fees, inspiring widespread wrath in his district and a recall campaign against him. Moreover, voters trust representatives to use their best judgment and vote on laws according to their own consciences, not to consult the polls before every controversial decision.
The best way to fight bigotry is by setting an example. By coming forward, acknowledging his sexual orientation and pointing out that gay people can be successful business owners and politicians and even Christian conservatives, Ashburn could soothe his community's fears and help others like him end their deception. And there are others; aside from famous examples such as former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho or former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, the documentary "Outrage" last year pointed out many other closeted right-wing politicians so full of self-loathing that they consistently vote to deny equal rights to themselves. There's a better path, and we hope Ashburn finds it -- but first he has to admit the real reasons for his self-destructive votes.