California State Senator Roy Ashburn (wikipedia, project vote smart) was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving last week. This week, while on leave from the Senate, Senator Ashburn participated in an interview on KERN radio, where Senator Ashburn came out.
“I’m gay. Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.”
Senator Ashburn has a history of voting against equal rights for homosexuals. In 2008, Senator Ashburn voted against legislation (that passed the California Senate) that would expand anti-discrimination laws to protect people based on sexual orientation. He also voted against recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages.
Senator Ashburn justified his voting record by stating that his votes were always in the interest of his conservative constituency:
“My votes reflect the wishes of the people in my district. 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 acknowledging rights or assigning identification to homosexual persons.”
In response to this, Equality California, a gay rights group that sponsors many equal rights bills in the state of California, released a statement:
“We can empathize with Senator Ashburn’s long and difficult journey to admit that he is gay. Equality California looks forward to working with the Senator to use his experience to educate the people in his district on why he deserves the same rights and privileges as a gay man as any other Californian.”
Take the jump for my editorial take, and more on Senator Ashburn’s voting history – and who knew about the Senator’s orientation before his interview.
I certainly don’t pretend to comprehensively comprehend the mindset of a politician, attempting to juggle the desires of the people who put you in power, with your own conscience. Adding the complication of being in the closet – unable, for whatever reason, to let other people know who you are as a human being – must have made many of these votes very difficult for Senator Ashburn.
However, there is nothing that prevents a politician from attempting to speak his views to his constituency while still voting with their conscience. I do not believe that politicians should do “what they believe is best” all of the time, when it is against the interests of the people who elected them. However, I do believe that they should use their position to attempt to convince people of what is right. Denying human beings the rights they deserve as human beings just because of a way of life – even if you believe this way of life is a choice – is beyond reprehensible.
The specific law that Senator Ashburn voted against would have expanded anti-discrimination laws to make sure that sexual orientation was not a factor in deciding insurance coverage, worker’s compensation, court-appointed child advocacy, and prepaid health plans.
This bill updates various provisions in different codes dealing with discrimination in contracting, insurance, workers compensation, court-appointed child advocacy, and prepaid health plans to ensure that proper reference is made to the classes protected under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Section 51 of the Civil Code), or to Section 11135 of the Government Code which prohibits discrimination in state-funded programs and activities based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, sex (including gender identity), marital status, and sexual orientation), or to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Section 12926.1 of the Government Code). Thus, this bill harmonizes and makes consistent these anti-discrimination statutes spread across various state codes. In doing so, this bill expands the protected classes in some statutes to encompass those recently added to the Unruh Civil Rights Act or to Sections 11135 and 12926.1 of the Government Code.
No matter how internally conflicted Senator Ashburn was, as an elected official, he should have been able to put aside his struggles with his own life to grant all human beings equal access to the services they deserve – let alone access to health insurance they rightfully deserve and pay for.
To add insult to injury, the fact that Senator Ashburn was gay was an open secret among other area politicians, and some say two newspapers knew and decided not to report. The right to privacy is one that I cherish, and I certainly do not believe that colleagues – to say nothing of the news media – should be the first to “out” anyone for anything. But if others knew Senator Ashburn, his voting record, and his lifestyle, some sort of intervention seems like it should have been in order, either to convince him to be honest with himself and his constituents and come out of the closet, or turn his voting record around and use his platform to at least start a dialog in his constituency about equal rights.
Can this all be a little blown out of proportion? Sure. Is the tired old trope of conservative politician coming out of the closet really all that newsworthy any more? Not really. But any pulpit that can serve to start conversations about equal rights is a good one. I hope that Senator Ashburn will turn over a new leaf and use this situation to bring some good from his Senatorship – and hopefully next time, he’ll hail a cab.