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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

In this file photo, state Sen. Roy Ashburn speaks at a press conference highlighting a $10,000 homebuyer tax credit.

Roy Ashburn says this period of his life has been difficult but truly rewarding.

He has spent the last few months taking stock of how keeping the secret of his sexuality has hurt those closest to him, his constituents and the gay community in general. He's reassessing who he is and what's important to him personally and politically.

"I'm taking care of a lot of old baggage," he said in a wide ranging conversation Wednesday, a day before he surprised many by speaking out for gay rights on the Senate floor.

The worst part, he said, was having lied to his children.

"They've actually known for several years now so they became the keepers of dad's secret," he said. "I was so used to lying and hiding who I was, it didn't even occur to me what a horrible burden that was for young teenagers."

As to the issue of voting against gay rights legislation while living a secret double life, he acknowledged that happened and in many cases it was wrong.

"I'm sorry for that," he said.

But he made a distinction between rights and politics.

A bill by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, was a good example, he said. The measure says members of the clergy don't have to perform civil marriages that go against their beliefs.

The first part of the bill protects religious freedom, Ashburn said. But the second part seemed to him to be more of a political statement that would have caused confusion and lawsuits.

Ashburn voted against the Leno bill Thursday. But he voted for another measure, which urged the feds to end its "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military.

Speaking out on both issues Thursday was a major change for Ashburn.

"In the past, I didn't want to even vote on a gay rights bill because I didn't want to bring the spotlight on myself since I had a big secret to keep," he said. "Most of the time I would leave the chamber and come back to vote no. I didn't even know what was in the bills."

He's not allowing that to happen anymore, he said.

On a personal level, Ashburn said he's happy.

His sexuality came to light in a very public way after he got a DUI leaving a gay bar in Sacramento.

"I outed myself, I really did," he said. "I was drinking and doing riskier and riskier things."

He's quit drinking and attends Alcohol Anonymous classes twice weekly. And he's been taking public transit and riding his bicycle to get to work.

"I made a vow that I wouldn't have a state worker drive me since the average person wouldn't have that luxury if they got a DUI," he said.

He's lost 14 pounds and enjoys his commuting routine.

"I'm seeing things I never noticed before and I'm smelling the roses, really, that's what I do."