Baxter told host Matt Lauer that she's a "very private person" and "not a very political person," but that she understands coming out "is a political act."
"My understanding is that so much research has been done that says that if anybody knows someone who is gay or lesbian, then when they are addressing gay or lesbian issues, political issues that affect their rights, they're less likely to vote against them, to take away their rights," Baxter explained.
"If you knew me before, and you cared about me before, I'm the same woman," Baxter continued. "I'm the same mother to all these children. And if I can be that lesbian you now know, okay, well if I vote this way, than, than that actually might affect this person I know, that Meredith."
Baxter told Lauer that she's been living as a lesbian for the past seven years and that her five children from her previous marriages, along with her step-father, have been supportive of her lifestyle. She's been in a relationship with a woman for four years.
"I've always lived a very private life, and to come out and disclose stuff is, it's really antithetical to who I am," Baxter confided to Lauer.
As to why Baxter chose to come out publicly now, she stated, "I did not want some tabloid to take the story and make it up - I wanted it to be in my own words."
The National Enquirer had previously reported that Baxter appeared on a lesbian Caribbean cruise, "traveling with a female friend, and seemed very relaxed and comfortable." Photos of the actress and her partner appeared on celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com yesterday.
Lauer also managed to briefly touch on the issue of same-sex marriage after he misstated the details of Baxter's previous marriages.
"[Fans] think of you as the quintessential TV mom, but they also, if they followed your life at all, as fans would, know that you are three times married with five children," stated Lauer.
Baxter quickly clarified, "was," at which point Lauer noted, "Exactly, not still. That's illegal in most states."