04/19/2007 at 08:00 AM EDT
Neil Patrick Harris decided to come out of the closet
last year because he sensed "this sort of witch-hunt brewing," he says.
"There was a little of media scrutiny heading my way," Harris tells Ellen DeGeneres in an episode of her talk show airing Thursday. "People were starting to ask for stories of other people that may have fooled around with me, and the last thing you want to do is talk about your private life based on scandal.
"I'm not a very scandalous person and so I didn't want to have to respond to some story, whether it was lie or truth – so I just made a statement and sort squashed the fires."
Harris, 33, told PEOPLE exclusively in November: "I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest."
"My life had been relatively open in my world," he tells DeGeneres. "I've been dating the same guy for three years and our families know. We go out together all the time but I just feel like as an actor part of your occupation is retaining a bit of mystery so you can be believable in many different types of roles, so I never felt it was an obligation for me to hold pinkies down the red carpet or anything."
Harris, who shot to fame as a teen doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D.,
now plays philandering Barney on CBS's How I Met Your Mother.
"He's a crazy womanizer on the show so I just didn't find [my sexual orientation] important," he tells DeGeneres. "But other people did and I sort sensed this witch-hunt brewing."
Ultimately, he says, a decision to go public should rest with the individual. "If someone doesn't want to talk about stuff or if someone has reason that they don't want to, I don't think they need to be criticized and chastised necessarily for that," he says, "unless they're blatantly lying about things. I'm not such a fan of pushing, pushing people to make decisions."
Having gone public himself, Harris knows it was the right choice. "For me that is the greatest ending to the story so far – that nothing really has changed at all," he says. "I'm doing nothing different and people aren't behaving differently towards me. ... People heard and they're like yeah, and? That attitude, I think, was great."