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Are Sen. Roy Ashburn's excuses persuasive?

March 9, 2010 |  5:03 pm
AshburnBy now, you've probably come across the excuses offered by Republican state Sen. Roy Ashburn, outed following his DUI arrest after reportedly leaving a gay bar in Sacramento last week, for his history of voting against gay-rights legislation. The gist is that his voting record merely reflects the wishes of his constituents, and that he thought he could separate his personal life from his political career ("it's not personal, it's political" is something of a gay-basher mantra). Here's exactly what he said, per Queerty:

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 as each of these individual measures came before the Legislature, I cast "no" votes.... I cherish the fact that we have a remarkable system of government, and that system of government provides for representatives elected by the people to go to the legislative bodies, whether it be Washington, D.C., or Sacramento, and cast votes on behalf of the people, not my own point of view, not my own internal conflict, certainly to use my best judgment, but to vote as my constituents would have me vote. There's never been a doubt in my mind on the position of the vast majority of the people in my district, the 18th senatorial district, on these different issues. I voted as I felt I should on behalf of the people who elected me.

An obvious question for Ashburn is whether he thinks his district would have sent him to Sacramento had he been honest about his sexual orientation, but that's beside the point. Ashburn essentially suggests  that it isn't the role of legislators to lead. As far as same-sex marriage is concerned, Ashburn's voting record seems in line with the public opinion of his district, which includes Bakersfield. But marriage hasn't been the only front in the battle over the last few years to ensure equal protection for gay men and women. Ashburn opposed bills to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation at workplaces, in housing decisions and so on. As noted by former Times reporter Robert Salladay at California Watch, Ashburn's voting record may actually land much further right of the people who elected him.

Ashburn's other justification -- that he felt his private and political lives could remain separate -- should ring familiar to those of us who feel strongly about equality for gay men and women. I've always seen the debate over marriage equality as proving precisely the opposite: that the political and the personal are deeply intertwined. Ashburn may have been able to separate the two by keeping his sexual orientation a secret, but the out-of-the closet Californians whose personal lives could have been damaged by Ashburn's votes didn't have that luxury.

I'll leave the rest of the debate to you: Was Ashburn wrong to vote against the interest of gay Californians such as himself, or is he right that legislators ought to put their own convictions aside and only represent their constituents' views? The Times' editorial board will weigh in on the Ashburn affair Wednesday; in the meantime, share your views in the comments field below.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Sen. Roy Ashburn at the Capitol building in Sacramento on Monday.

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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