Here's a piece of free advice: if you're a closeted gay politician with a firmly anti-gay platform, maybe you shouldn't have any cocktails at the gay bar lest you get arrested on a DUI on your way home and find that your private sexual practices are suddenly of immense public interest. That at least would appear to be the lesson to be learned from the example of anti-gay Republican California state Senator and alleged drunk driver Roy Ashburn.
Ashburn has served for 14 years in the California state Legislature, representing the area of Bakersfield (California's 11th largest city). In that time, he has consistently resisted the progress of gay rights, including a 2005 no vote on legislation to legalize gay marriage that actually passed the legislature, only to receive a gubernatorial veto. He also voted against a law making May 22 an annual Harvey Milk Day—legislation that was ultimately successful.
But in the early morning hours of March third, Ashburn left Faces, a gay club in Sacramento, in the company of an unidentified man. Shortly thereafter, the California Highway Patrol spotted Ashburn driving erratically near the Capitol and pulled him over. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .14 percent, .06 percent above the legal limit. This week, Ashburn ended the rampant speculation triggered by these events by going on Bakersfield AM radio to explain himself—and to come out.
"I am gay," Ashburn told conservative radio host Inga Barks. "Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long. But I am gay." He went on to explain that he had tried to separate his public and private lives, but that the DUI arrest had made that impossible. "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. Even so, he maintains that his public positions on gay rights have had nothing to do with his private life. "I don't think it's something that has affected, nor will it affect, how I do my job." Ultimately, he said, "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."
So far, no one's buying it. Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, a pro-gay-marriage group, said in no uncertain terms, "He's blaming his constituents. There are legislators in the Central Valley [the large region around Ashburn's district] who have voted for LBGT rights." Rather, Kors said, "It seems that there have been a number of politicians who seem so concerned that [being gay] will impact their careers that they not only hide, they vote against LBGT rights to squash rumors about their sexual orientation."
On the other side of the political spectrum, the president of the Republican Assembly of Kern County, Martin Bertram, didn't want to talk about the gay issue, but he did say that Ashburn's "recent drunk driving incident certainly adds to the concerns about his personal responsibility and his regard for the taxpayers whose vehicle he was driving." Ashburn was driving his state government-provided car when he was pulled over.