June 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Dem challenger: Collins’ marriage support ‘not true leadership’
Shenna Bellows, Maine, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Shenna Bellows (Photo courtesy of the Shenna Bellows U.S. Senate Campaign; courtesy Creative Commons)

The Democratic opponent running against Sen. Susan Collins criticized the Maine Republican the day after she came out for marriage equality, saying her new position is “not true leadership” for the LGBT community.

Shenna Bellows, who’s running against the Republican incumbent for her seat in the U.S. Senate, rebuked Collins’ support for gay nuptials as too little, too late in a phone interview Thursday with the Washington Blade.

“When it mattered to gay and lesbian couples in Maine, Republican Susan Collins was silent,” Bellows said. “Endorsing marriage equality in an election year two years after Maine has spoken is not true leadership.”

As head of the ACLU in Maine, Bellows was active in efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, which enacted marriage equality via a voter-initiated ballot measure in 2012.

Touting her work as far back as 2005 on the marriage equality executive committee, Bellows said she solicited outreach for Republican support, but Collins wouldn’t lend a hand.

“Our coalition reached out to Susan Collins at that time as well, and she declined to get involved,” Bellows said. “It really mattered to couples and families here in our state.”

In years past, Collins has opposed a Federal Marriage Amendment, but she’s been reluctant to take a a position on same-sex marriage itself.

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, but never took a firm position before Election Day. It was only this week that Collins came out for marriage equality.

“We’re not fazed by this,” Bellows said. “If anything, it’s an opportunity to contrast my longtime leadership on LGBTQ issues with Collins’ recent conversion in an election year.”

Despite her reluctance to come out for marriage equality, Collins is known for being one of the leading Republicans on LGBT issues. The Maine senator played a key role in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and was an original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed in the Senate.

Bellows acknowledged Collins’ role in moving both these initiatives, but minimized her involvement.

“My opponent has done the right thing in supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [repeal], although she wasn’t there in the very beginning when advocates, including the ACLU, asked her to be,” Bellows said. “She did the right thing by voting ‘yes’ on ENDA.”

Bellows touted her own work on LGBT issues, saying in addition to marriage equality efforts, she helped lead initiatives to enact a statewide anti-bullying law and kill an anti-transgender measure within the state.

Moreover, Bellows said she’d go further than Collins in Congress. On her planned agenda is federal legislation that would institute marriage rights for same-sex couples across the country as well as a comprehensive non-discrimination bill for employment, education, housing and public accommodations without a religious exemption.

“I believe we need a federal freedom to marry bill,” Bellows said. “It is absolutely wrong that there are couples in this country who are not free to marry the person that they love. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, and we are still far short of that because of the lack of leadership in Washington.”

Further, she called on Collins to endorse those measures. The Collins campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on whether the Maine Republican would back the hypothetical bills.

But it’s Collins’ support for LGBT initiatives in Congress that landed her an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign just hours before she came out for marriage equality.

Bellows said the nation’s largest LGBT group backed Collins during her re-election campaigns in 2002 and 2008, so the announcement this week wasn’t a surprise.

“Here in Maine, we’re seeing an incredible outpouring of support from the LGBTQ community,” Bellows said. “I’m inspired and heartened by that. I will always be an advocate for full equality under the law.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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