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PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona state senator revealed that he was gay on Wednesday, saying he felt compelled to make his sexual orientation public because of the recent battle over legislation in the state that would have allowed businesses to refuse sevices to homosexuals.
The disclosure by Democratic Minority Whip Steve Gallardo comes as he is vying to replace retiring Representative Ed Pastor.
"I thought it was important right now to say, ‘I'm gay. I am Latino. I'm a state senator and it's OK,'" Gallardo said in a phone interview. "I want to tell those people who struggle every day about coming out that it's OK to be who you are."
Gallardo, 44, said the "game-changer" in his decision to reveal his sexuality came on February 19 when a measure - vetoed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer last week - went to the floor of the state Senate for debate and drew a public outcry.
The measure, widely seen as a backlash against federal court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage in several states, would have allowed business owners to claim religious beliefs as a basis for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customers.
"It just hit me that this will affect me directly and that I had to let everyone know that I was gay," said Gallardo, who was first elected to the Arizona legislature in 2002.
Gallardo has been among the most vocal Democrats in the legislature on a range of issues, including immigration, worker's rights and election reform. He served three terms in the state House of Representative and is completing his second term in the Senate.
He announced last week that he would run to replace Pastor, a Democrat, who is retiring from the U.S. Congress after 11 terms in office. Gallardo is one of three announced Democratic candidates for that seat, joining state Representative Ruben Gallego and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
Gallardo becomes one of a small number of openly gay members at the state legislature, joining Senator Robert Meza of Phoenix and Representative Demion Clinco of Tucson.
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Tom Brown