Former Republican National Committee chairman and George W. Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Wednesday he is gay.
The Atlantic reported that Mehlman recently came to his conclusion and plans to become a public advocate for gay marriage.
"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."
Mehlman helmed the GOP at a time when it campaigned against gay marriage. Several states had ballot initiatives on gay marriage during the 2004 and 2006 elections that were thought to have aided Republican candidates elsewhere on the ballot by driving conservative voters to the polls.
Mehlman, who is now an executive vice-president with private equity firm KKR in New York, said he did not feel comfortable going against the party's position on gay rights as an individual operative.
But he did wish he had come to terms with his sexuality sooner, so he could have prevented the issue from becoming a major focus of the party.
"It's a legitimate question and one I understand," Mehlman said. "I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.
"What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn't always heard," he added. "I didn't do this in the gay community at all."
Mehlman denied that former President Bush is a homophobe and expressed disappointment that more gays did not ally with Republicans on the war on terror due to Islamic extremists' anti-gay stances.
Addressing people who doubt his sincerity, Mehlman said, "If they can't offer support, at least offer understanding."