Senator Roy Ashburn is in the twilight
of his service in the California Senate. He came to Sacramento in
1996 and served six years in the Assembly before moving on to the
Senate, where he has served his maximum two terms.
In his final months of service, the
Bakersfield Republican has come out gay to his conservative district.
His story hit the papers like a tidal
wave in March: homophobic Republican ironically turns out to be gay.
After leaving a gay bar in Sacramento, Ashburn and a male companion
were pulled over for drunk driving. The media attention, says
Ashburn, convinced him to come clean after four days in hiding.
The 56-year-old divorced father of four
now says he wants to reform the GOP from within and says he's
convinced his party is ready.
In a wide-ranging interview conducted
on Friday with On Top Magazine, Ashburn talked to us about gay
rights, Ken Mehlman and what's next.
Not only has Ashburn flipped his votes
on gay rights bills, he's increasingly speaking out on gay rights.
A bill that repeals a decades-old gay
“cure” mandate from state code which was unanimously approved by
senators last week was carried in the Senate by Ashburn. The law
instructed the State Department of Mental Health to conduct research
into the “causes and cures of homosexuality.” The bill's author,
Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, said “Sixty
years is more than long enough” in calling for the law's repeal.
“The law is clearly founded on a
false premise that somehow homosexuality can and should be cured,”
he said. “And there is a requirement on the department to conduct
research, that means spend public money on something that is
discriminatory and false.”
“So, this bill removes those
requirements and those references. And the implied relationship
between homosexuals and sex offenders. I mean that's implied in this
because the three things that the original 1950 law said again were
'to conduct scientific research into the causes and cures of sexual
deviation' and 'the causes and cures of homosexuality' and 'into
methods of identifying potential sex offenders.'”
“I mean that's not only
discriminatory, that's offensive,” he added.
Ashburn said he was “happy” for Ken
former RNC chief and GOP strategist who came out gay Wednesday after
years of denying rumors about his sexual orientation. But
Mehlman's coming out has met with stiff resistance from prominent gay
rights leaders who have charged that the 43-year-old political
strategist should have spoken out sooner against GOP strategies
designed to keep the party in power at the expense of the gay
“I'm pleased for him,” Ashburn
said, “because knowing what I've been through in trying to keep a
secret for so many years and in trying to hide my secret, doing
things that were hurtful to gay people, coming to the realization
that you can actually admit who you truly are, and to stop the hiding
and the actions around that which are hurtful … I mean that's a big
breakthrough and I'm happy for him.”
Mehlman says he came out to become a
gay marriage advocate. In speaking about the issue, he said he
believes giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry is
fundamentally a conservative value.
“I would argue … that in fact if
you are a believer in individual freedom and leaving people alone and
you're a believer in strengthening families that, in fact, supporting
issues like the right to marry would be consistent with that. I
think those are conservative positions,” Mehlman told gay weekly
Ashburn agreed, adding that the
Republican party is ideally suited for championing gay rights.
“I would argue that the Republican
party, because of the principles underlying Republicanism, really is
the party that should be championing equal rights for gay people, for
all people. For me this is very clear,” he said.
What's next for Ashburn? Some have
suggested a congressional run, but would Republicans back an openly
gay – and increasingly vocal – candidate? The evidence is mixed.
While the three openly gay members of Congress are all Democrats,
Republicans are becoming increasingly supportive of openly gay
candidates on the local and state level.
In the meantime, Ashburn says he'll
work to reform the party from within.
“My interest is in changing the
Republican party. My Republican party, which I don't intend to
abandon, was created on three core values. And those are limited
government, maximum individual freedom and the idea that government
does not get involved in the private lives of citizens.”
“Now somehow along the way … the
party got off track,” Ashburn admits. “I want to change the
party to reestablish itself on those three core values of what