by Rex Wockner
An anti-gay California state senator who has been a “traditional values” activist was arrested on suspicion of driving drunk in Sacramento on March 3 and subsequently outed. Then, five days after his arrest, Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) came out of the closet but said he’ll continue to vote anti-gay.
Ashburn had a blood-alcohol level nearly double the legal limit – .14 BAC – when the California Highway Patrol pulled him over just after 2 a.m. after he left the Sacramento gay bar Faces. An unidentified male passenger was with him in the car.
Ashburn’s voting record on gay issues in the Legislature is essentially “zero,” said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors.
He voted against gays at least 30 times, Kors said, based on preliminary research. He cast at least one vote considered by some to be gay-friendly, Kors said. That bill, which became law, requires California registered domestic partners to file their state income tax returns as if they were a married couple.
In 2005, Ashburn, who is divorced and has four children, co-hosted a “traditional values” rally in support of amending the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The proposed amendment’s language also likely would have nullified the state’s domestic partnership law.
Ashburn also opposed the state’s proclamation of Harvey Milk Day, state laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, a resolution supporting repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a variety of other measures supportive of gay people. He reportedly supported Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure via which voters amended the state constitution to repeal gays’ right to marry.
The openly gay mayor of West Sacramento, Christopher Cabaldon, told reporters he had seen Ashburn in gay bars several times. Cabaldon even mentioned it on his Facebook page several months ago, though nothing came of it.
“It wouldn’t bother me so bad to see Roy Ashburn at Badlands with a boy if he didn’t have such a bad voting record on gay rights,” Cabaldon reportedly wrote on the social networking Web site.
Cabaldon said he also had seen Ashburn at the gay bar the Depot.
“You just can’t live a double life in politics anymore,” Cabaldon told KOVR-TV.
“To live a secret life and at the same time be attacking exactly the people who you’re one of, but that you’re too ashamed to admit, that’s the hypocrisy that I think for folks – whether you’re gay or not, it’s just unacceptable in politics.”
Kors called it “extremely hypocritical for Sen. Ashburn, by patronizing a gay club, to be enjoying the fundamental rights and freedoms of association that others have fought so hard for but that he himself has repeatedly voted against.”
Ashburn took a leave of absence from the Senate and then, on March 8, came out in an appearance on Bakersfield radio station KERN.
“I am gay. … those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long,” Ashburn said. “But I am gay. It is something that is personal, and I don’t believe I felt with my heart that it – you know, being gay – did not affect, wouldn’t affect how I do my job. … What happened, through my own actions the other night, changed all that.”
As for all those votes he cast against himself as a gay Californian: “My votes reflect the wishes of the people in my district. And I have always felt that my faith and allegiance was to the people there in the district, my constituents, and so as each of these individual measures came before the legislature, I cast ‘no’ votes – usually ‘no’ votes – because the measures were almost always about acknowledging rights or assigning identification to homosexual persons.”
“I felt my duty, and I still feel this way, is to represent my constituents,” he said. “There’s never been a doubt in my mind on the position of the vast majority of people in my district. … I voted as I felt I should on behalf of the people who elected me.”
Will he vote any differently now?
“I believe firmly that my responsibility is to my constituents,” Ashburn said. “And so, on each measure that may come before me, I will take a careful look at it and apply that standard. How would my constituents vote on this? How would they have me vote on this?”
“I pray to God that I can find peace,” Ashburn added. “I want to go back to work in the Senate and work hard for the people who sent me to the Legislature. We have tough times in California, a lot to do, and I want to get back to work. … Now you know everything about me.”
A new Facebook group is representative of online gay reaction to Ashburn’s saga. It is titled, “1,000,000 Gay Men and Allies Against Roy Ashburn Having Sex Ever Again.”
“Now that Sen. Ashburn has come out,” said EQCA’s Kors, “we … hope he will stop voting against the rights of LGBT people, including his own. We hope he’ll become a champion of equality for all Californians. He has the opportunity to reach out to Republicans who have supported him and demonstrate that he is the same person they voted for before – with the exception that he is now living his life honestly. He has the chance to move people on LGBT equality. We hope he takes it.”
“(T)o date,” Kors said, “no legislator has lost their seat for supporting EQCA-sponsored legislation. This includes legislators in a number of more conservative districts, like Bakersfield, Fresno and the Salinas Valley.”