Republican state Sen. Roy Ashburn said Monday he is gay, ending days of speculation that began after his arrest last week for investigation of driving under the influence.
Ashburn, who consistently voted against gay rights measures during his 14 years in the state Legislature, came out in an interview with KERN radio in Bakersfield, the area he represents.
Ashburn said he felt compelled to address rumors that he had visited a gay nightclub near the Capitol before his DUI arrest.
"I am gay ... those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long," Ashburn told conservative talk show host Inga Barks.
The 55-year-old father of four said he had tried to keep his personal life separate from his professional life until his March 3 arrest.
"When I crossed the line and broke the law and put people at risk, that's different, and I do owe people an explanation," he said.
Ashburn was arrested after he was spotted driving erratically near the Capitol, according to the California Highway Patrol. Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman from the Sacramento County district attorney's office, said a breath test showed the senator's blood-alcohol level was .14 percent, or .06 points above the legal limit.
The next day, reports surfaced that Ashburn had left Faces, a gay nightclub, with an unidentified man in the passenger seat of his Senate-owned vehicle.
"The best way to handle that is to be truthful and to say to my constituents and all who care that I am gay," he said. "But I don't think it's something that has affected, nor will it affect, how I do my job."
Ashburn had been on personal leave since his arrest, but attended Monday's brief Senate session, where he avoided the media. Fellow lawmakers greeted him warmly, and he received pats on the back and hugs from some Republicans and Democrats.
Ashburn has voted against a number of gay rights measures, including efforts to expand anti-discrimination laws and recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Last year, he opposed a bill to establish a day of recognition to honor slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
Equality California, a group that advocates for expanded gay rights and other issues, has consistently given Ashburn a zero rating on its scorecard.
The group's executive director, Geoff Kors, said Monday that he hopes the senator's revelation will lead him to change his voting patterns.
"He's still the same person, only living more honestly," Kors said. "I hope his own self-awareness will result in him no longer voting to deny people the most basic rights."
Reflecting constituents’ views?
Ashburn said his votes reflected the way constituents in his district wanted him to vote, not necessarily his own views.
"I felt my duty — and I still feel this way — is to represent my constituents, not my own point of view, not my own internal conflict," he told Barks.
Ashburn said he planned to continue voting on behalf of what he sees as the majority viewpoint in his district, which includes parts of Kern, Tulare and San Bernardino counties.
Former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, an openly gay Democrat who was visiting the Capitol Monday, said she hopes Ashburn receives support, not condemnation, from his friends, family and constituents.
"It's very painful," she said of the coming-out process. "And mostly it's painful because you think everyone will be against you."
In the radio interview, Ashburn said he is drawing on his Christian faith, and he asked people to pray for him.
He said he does not plan to run for any public office after his term ends this year.