There is something so depressing, and at the same time predictably hypocritical, about the recent drunk-driving arrest of California State Senator Roy Ashburn that resulted in his confession that he is gay. The 55-year-old Republican and divorced father of two made the admission on a local radio show after he was arrested for driving under the influence, leaving a gay nightclub in Sacramento with an “unidentified man in the passenger seat of his state-owned vehicle.” Although Ashburn doesn’t plan on running for any public office after his term ends this year, he is not resigning from office.
It’s not as if sex scandals—especially gay sex scandals—are new to politics. From Bob Bauman in the 1980s through Mark Foley, Larry Craig, and Jim McGreevey, right up to Ashburn and Rep. Eric Massa’s tickle fights, these episodes clearly aren’t defined by party affiliation either. What is so fascinating about Ashburn is that he seems to think that there is a delineation between the public and private lives of an elected official.
There are only three openly gay members of Congress. But it seems inconceivable that there aren’t other politicians who remain in the closet.
First off, it will never cease to disturb me that we live in a culture where being gay seems to be the last frontier for those hoping to enter politics. There are only three openly gay members of Congress (Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado) and none in the Senate. But it seems inconceivable that there aren’t other politicians who remain in the closet. Being gay seems to determine in some ways whether someone can run and/or get elected in America, which leaves staying in the closet as the only viable route to public service.
The second part that’s upsetting about Ashburn’s story is the tremendous disconnect between his private life and his public record. The state senator had a long anti-gay voting history, including opposing several anti-discrimination measures and same-sex marriage. In his radio-show confession, Ashburn defended his record, saying, “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.”
So what exactly does that mean? That a politician should mold himself to be what his constituents want and completely disregard his own identity or how he feels personally? On some level, I agree with that. An elected official is there to serve the people, not to vote a personal agenda. But that only works if there is transparency and honesty. If Barney Frank votes against an anti-gay discrimination measure, at least voters know he is gay. If a Roy Ashburn does it, it is the worst kind of hypocrisy.
And for me, Ashburn is an especially sad hypocrite. He is a man clearly struggling with numerous issues in his life. What is so sad is that the state senator is just another cliché, another Republican forced out of the closet who offered a self-loathing apology to the press. It not only puts the gay-rights movement back, but also the unfortunate clichés about hypocrisy in politics as well.
Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the Web site mccainblogette.com.