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Republican Sen. Roy Ashburn, who has been on leave from the Senate since his DUI arrest last week, confirmed today that he is gay.

"I'm gay," Ashburn told KERN radio host Inga Barks in an interview this morning. "Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long."

Ashburn's announcement follows reports that Ashburn was leaving a gay club before he was arrested for driving under the influence last week.

The Bakersfield Republican, who has consistently voted against gay-rights measures, said his votes were a reflection of how the majority of voters in his conservative district would have wanted him to vote.

Ashburn, who is divorced, has been on personal leave in the Senate since last week's arrest. He is expected to return today.

Benjamin Lopez, lobbyist for the Traditional Values Coalition, said, "I don't know why Roy strayed. But he said that the Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder of the coalition, was open to help Ashburn with counseling.

Lopez stood with Ashburn at a rally in Bakersfield in 2005 to support a state proposal to block gay marriage as well as to get rid of domestic partnerships with any benefits of marriage.

"I think it's sad more than hypocritical," Lopez said. "We're not in Roy's head. We don't know what is he thinking. We hope he comes to terms with whatever is making him make a choice to be a gay man."

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay rights group that sponsors many state bills, called Ashburn's comments about his voting record "a lame excuse."

"He's blaming his constituents," Kors said. "There are legislators in the Central Valley who have voted for LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) rights."

In a press released midday Monday, Equality California said: "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.

Ashburn said on the radio show: "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."

Kors said: "People elected him to lead. I would be shocked to see if there is any polling that shows that most people in his district believe that anyone should be fired from their job because of their sexual orientation or kicked out of public accommodations because of their sexual orientation. And yet he voted against bills to prevent that."

Kors said that former Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, voted for a bill to legalize gay marriage "and then was told he could never run for anything again. But he went on to win a county supervisor race by 70 percent of the vote."

Kors said: "It seems that there have been a number of politicians who seem so concerned that it (being gay) will impact their careers that they not only hide, they vote against LBGT rights to squash rumors about their sexual orientation."

Lopez said Ashburn will have to "take a back seat" on the cause against same-sex marriage. But he said if Ashburn continues in the Senate, as he suggested during his radio interview, he should continue to cast votes "consistent with his district."

"We thank Roy for all his votes on social issues," Lopez said.

(This post was updated with Kors' comments at 11:30 a.m. and Lopez's at 1 p.m. Susan Ferriss of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.)

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