Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) came out in favor of marriage equality Wednesday evening, making her the fourth GOP senator to publicly declare her support.
“A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision,” Collins told the Bangor Daily News.
“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,” she added.
The senator's comments came just hours after the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her reelection bid -- even though she had not yet said she supported same-sex marriage. Collins has received the backing of the group in the past, but it is notable this year because she is running against progressive Democrat Shenna Bellows, who has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality and fought to legalize it in Maine in 2012 as head of Mainers United for Marriage.
Collins has been one of the Republican senators most supportive of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, helping convince her colleagues to back measures like Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Therefore, her refusal to back marriage equality was puzzling to many of her supporters. Last year, she told The Associated Press it was a matter best "dealt with at the state level."
Her campaign spokesman, Lance Dutson, reiterated that position Wednesday to the Bangor Daily News.
“What she has consistently said is she doesn’t want to get involved in state-level referendum issues. She’s a U.S. senator, and she stays within the purview of her office,” Dutson said. “But when asked [Wednesday] about her personal stance on this issue, she’s said she supports it.”
The other members of the GOP caucus in the Senate who back marriage equality are Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
In response to Collins' announcement Wednesday, Bellows said she would have liked to have seen the senator come out earlier.
“My opponent’s voice on marriage equality could have made a real difference in 2012, when this was up for a vote in Maine,” Bellows said. “At that time, I was organizing Republicans for the Freedom to Marry, and we invited Susan Collins to endorse the campaign. She declined.”
In 2012, Maine voters approved a ballot measure legalizing same-sex marriage, making it the first state to do so through popular vote.