POLITICS
04/05/2013 02:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2013

Olympia Snowe Backs Gay Marriage After Leaving Office

Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said Friday that she supports gay marriage, despite a long history of declining to state her position while in office.

"I think obviously this has evolved over time on the whole issue for the whole country and the nations," Snowe, a moderate Republican, told CNN. "We've seen a sea change in society's whole attitude on this particular issue and it's only natural for government to be responsive to those changes."

Earlier this week, HuffPost reached out to Snowe at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she currently works, to talk about her position on the issue. A spokeswoman for the organization said Snowe was "going to pass."

Snowe voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which banned the federal government from recognizing states' same-sex marriages. But the long-serving Maine senator, who passed on running for re-election in 2012, told CNN Friday that she no longer supports DOMA.

In 1998, Snowe appeared hesitant on gay rights. "I have always said that there's a strong difference of opinion in society whether sexual preference should be given civil-rights protection," she told the Boston Phoenix. That year, she refused to announce a position on an ultimately successful referendum that repealed an anti-discrimination law against gays and lesbians. She later sponsored an LGBT non-discrimination bill at the federal level.

Maine has been a gay marriage battleground in recent years, with one referendum on the issue in 2009 that failed and another in 2012 that passed. Snowe refused to say how she voted in either. "It is left to individual states through the legislature or referenda to make their own determinations on this personal issue, and the people of Maine will now make this final determination come Election Day," she said in a 2012 statement.

Once out of public office, Snowe said that she had voted in November for legalizing gay marriage.

Snowe, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voted to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell policy" that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Collins, like Snowe while in office, has refused to say whether she supports gay marriage.

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