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Five Years Later, Ashburn Reflects On His Journey

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

State Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, left, who had announced earlier in the day that he was gay, talks with Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, right, at the capitol in Sacramento, Calif. on March 8, 2010.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Note: Listen to the full interview with Ashburn here.

For nearly all of his 14 years in the California Legislature, Republican Roy Ashburn lived a double life.

His votes against gay rights measures reflected his conservative
Bakersfield constituents. But they didn’t reflect his sexuality.

Just months before he termed out, Ashburn was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a Sacramento gay nightclub. Days later, he came out.

“I did conceal and I did deceive in order to gain election,“ Ashburn told Capital Public Radio in an interview airing on Friday's Insight. “And I did that purposefully knowing that it would not be possible to live an openly gay life and be elected to public office. And so I chose to be elected to public office rather than being true to who I really am.”

Ashburn said he should have voted in favor of gay rights legislation – including bills to legalize same-sex marriage – because of his beliefs in ”individual liberty, personal responsibility, the maximum freedom afforded under the Constitution that all individuals should be granted full rights.”

He also believes it won’t be long before openly gay Republicans are elected to Congress and the California Legislature. He pointed out that an openly gay Republican nearly won a San Diego congressional race last year.

Ashburn noted that there are still ”big elements within the Republican Party” that are opposed to gay rights. ”But I think society is moving rather rapidly in acceptance of individuals, and the Republican Party is reflective of society in general. Maybe moving at a slower pace, but inevitably toward a greater acceptance that people are born the way they’re born; that we are all equal under the law; and that equal rights ought to be afforded to all people.”

Asked what's holding the Republican Party back from reaching that point, he answered: ”Fear.”

It's no longer Ashburn's party, however. He's now registered without party preference and lives in Los Angeles. He says he misses the Legislature, “but on a personal level, life is much better.”


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio