Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has come under fire from LGBTQ groups after she accepted the endorsement of the Christian Civic League of Maine, an organization that opposes LGBTQ rights and has been the major force behind a referendum campaign seeking to repeal marriage equality.
In a video interview with Collins posted online earlier this month, Carroll Conley, the League’s executive director, said that the group’s support of Collins is “not a casual endorsement.”
“We want you to know that our endorsement of Susan Collins is an enthusiastic endorsement,” Conley says in the video. “I trust Senator Collins. Even when we don’t agree, we can actually have confidential private conversations.”
Collins said she was “grateful” to receive the League’s backing. She is currently involved in one of her toughest re-election bids, trailing Democrat Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine State House, in most public polls.
The League was one of the chief organizations behind a 2009 referendum repealing marriage equality, and opposed a successful 2013 citizen ballot initiative seeking to restore marriage rights for same-sex couples. The League was also behind two successful referenda in 1998 and 2000 denying nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and lost a similar referendum in 2005.
In 2004, the group received widespread criticism for seeking out “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” about the sexual orientation of Maine lawmakers, in an attempt to “out” LGBTQ politicians. It has launched several online campaigns attacking school districts that adopted policies guaranteeing nondiscrimination protections for transgender students, according to the Maine Beacon, a blog run by the Maine People’s Alliance.
In the interview, Collins pledged to block progressive legislation if re-elected, expressing opposition to Medicare for All and her support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal money from being used to pay for abortions, except in very rare cases of incest, rape, or if the mother’s life is at risk.
Collins did not say anything about LGBTQ issues, but has amassed a pro-LGBTQ record during her four terms in office, earning a 49% rating from the Human Rights Campaign during the 116th Congress.
EqualityMaine slammed Collins for accepting the League’s endorsement.
“The election is two weeks away, and Susan Collins isn’t even pretending to be a moderate anymore,” the LGBTQ organization said in a statement. “She’s ‘truly grateful’ for the support of radical extremists like Michael Heath and the Christian Civic League,” the group tweeted, referring to the former head of the League, who has formed several new organizations opposing LGBTQ rights.
A spokesperson for Collins’s campaign did not respond to a request from Metro Weekly seeking comment.
The Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Collins in past cycles but has since thrown its support behind Gideon, issued a statement attacking what they claim is evidence of the senator’s rightward shift politically.
“Embracing an extremist anti-LGBTQ group’s endorsement is nothing less than opportunistic in the waning days of this campaign,” said HRC spokesperson Lucas Acosta. “After years of being an independent voice for Mainers and advocating for the LGBTQ community, Collins has again chosen to pander to the far-right rather than stand by the principles she professed for years. It is impossible to reconcile welcoming the endorsement of an organization that sought to out Maine legislators, opposes marriage equality and that actively demeans and attacks transgender children with Collins’ previously expressed views.”
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