Commentary: How much of a politician's private life is our business?

The Sacramento BeeMarch 9, 2010 

The gentleman frequents gay bars in Sacramento.

The assertion probably wouldn't make news — except that in this case, the gentleman is a conservative state senator whose voting record on gay rights issues has consistently been "no."

Roy Ashburn, a Republican from staunchly conservative Bakersfield, was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of drunken driving. His government-issued car was seen weaving near 13th and L streets, according to the CHP.

Sacramento's CBS television affiliate reported that unnamed sources said Ashburn had been at Faces, a midtown gay bar, in the hours before his arrest. There were also anonymous reports that Ashburn was accompanied by a man who was "not a legislator."

Oh dear.

Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento, did not see Ashburn at Faces that night. But he says he's seen him several times in recent months at the Depot and Badlands, also well-known capital gay bars. Was Ashburn drinking or dancing with the fellas at the Depot and Badlands?

"No," Cabaldon said. "He was just sort of standing there kind of awkwardly."

This whole thing is awkward.

Ashburn has gone into hiding and won't respond to questions about his sexual orientation. And Cabaldon — who for years concealed his homosexuality — is being slammed by some gay bloggers for not "outing" Ashburn sooner.

Cabaldon's perspective: It's not his job to expose or conceal Ashburn's private life. He says he simply gave an honest answer to a question posed by reporters: Does Roy Ashburn frequent gay bars?

"For me it's not a question that he must be exposed for being in gay bars," Cabaldon said. "For me, it's a question of how much we should contort ourselves into pretending he wasn't."

The fact is, Mr. Ashburn has consistently voted against gay rights measures, and his predicament screams hypocrisy.

It's also highly topical. The 2009 documentary "Outrage" takes aim at politicians who vote anti-gay even when they believe they are gay. The movie accuses the media of "turning a blind eye to the hypocrisy," wrote the Los Angeles Times. "Perhaps (it's) because straight journalists are squeamish about dealing with gay issues."

Said Cabaldon: "This is less about Ashburn and more about, for lack of a better term, the white liberal approach of being overly sensitive about not mentioning (sexual orientation) because it's such a horrible thing to say."

Cabaldon himself came out four years ago, at age 40, and wishes he had done so sooner. The "closet" is a sad place to be.

"I have a lot of sympathy for Ashburn, but I wasn't trying to lead a double life. I just wasn't talking about it," he said. "I was supportive of our rights and equality. I wasn't persecuting by day and partying by night."

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service