Following years of questions on her position on marriage equality, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) issued a statement on Wednesday confirming she backs gay nuptials.
The news development was first reported by the Bangor Daily News, but a statement considered to reflect her support for marriage equality was provided to the Washington Blade by the Collins campaign:
“A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision,” Collins said. “Today, same-sex couples can be legally married in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 44 percent of Americans live in a state where same-sex couples can be legally married, and I believe this number will only continue to grow.”
“I have long opposed efforts to impose a federal ban on same-sex marriage. In both 2004 and 2006, I voted against amendments to the United States Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriages by preempting state laws,” Collins concluded.
Collins is considered the fourth sitting U.S. Senate Republican to endorse marriage equality. The other three are Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
The Maine Republican’s endorsement of marriage equality comes two weeks after the primary in her state and on the same day that controversy erupted following the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement of her as opposed to her Democratic opponent, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Shenna, Bellows.
On the one hand, Collins as Republican voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, led efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and pushed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act toward a bipartisan vote in the Senate. On the other, Bellows led efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at the ballot in Maine and pledged to introduce a comprehensive bill protecting LGBT people from discrimination upon election to the U.S. Senate.
Prior to the announcement from Collins, Bellows said in response to the HRC endorsement that her Republican incumbent has been missing in action because of her lack of support for same-sex marriage.
“My opponent, Republican Susan Collins, had the chance to speak up in favor of marriage equality in 2012 or any time in the previous decade,” Bellows said. “Two years after her constituents made their feelings known at the ballot box, she has refused to break her silence. I believe Mainers need, want and deserve more proactive representation on equal rights — on allowing LGBT students to learn without fear of bullying, on applying for jobs and going to work without fear of discrimination, and on much more.”
During the Bush administration, Collins was considered an outlier Republican who defended the LGBT community because she opposed a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country, saying she believed the issue was best left to the states.
The trouble is, she maintained that position even after others grow to support marriage equality and the issue came to the state that she represents in the U.S. Senate.
Just before same-sex marriage came to the Maine ballot in 2009, Collins told the Washington Blade she wasn’t taking a position on the measure because she doesn’t get involved in state issues. In 2012, when the issue returned to Maine voters, Collins told the Blade she was “considering” marriage equality and never took a firm position before Election Day.
When Portman and Kirk came out for marriage equality just before the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act last year, Collins continued to stay mum on the issue. In an interview with the Associated Press at the time, refused to say whether she personally supports gay nuptials.
“I’ve always felt that domestic relations, including marriage, should be dealt with at the state level,” she was quoted as saying. “My philosophy has been to stay out of state issues.”
Despite the drawn out process leading to Collin’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, LGBT advocates working to advance marriage equality and increase its support among Republicans welcomed Collins’ announcement with enthusiasm.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said the endorsement builds off Collin’s earlier record on LGBT rights and the growing support for marriage equality in the Republican Party.
“Republicans around the country are coming to the common-sense conservative conclusion that marriage equality strengthens society and is no threat to religious liberty,” Angelo said. “As a longtime ally of Log Cabin Republicans who championed repeal of the flawed ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy and most recently the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Sen. Collins’ declaration of support for civil marriage equality is the latest milestone in a career that has exhibited bold and unwavering support for the LGBT community.”