Collins ‘truly grateful’ for endorsement from notorious anti-LGBTQ group

Sen. Susan Collins said in an interview posted last week that she is “truly grateful” for the endorsement of the Christian Civic League of Maine, an organization that has waged a series of often-caustic referendum campaigns over the past several decades opposing LGBTQ rights.

In a video interview with Collins released last week, the League’s executive director Carroll Conley said the group’s decision to back Collins — who is in a tight race for re-election against Democratic Speaker of the Maine House Sara Gideon — is “not a casual endorsement.”

“We want you to know that our endorsement of Susan Collins is an enthusiastic endorsement,” Conley said in the video. The organization is also backing President Donald Trump and Republican congressional candidates Jay Allen and Dale Crafts.

Later on in the interview, while urging conservatives to back Collins, Conley said, “We have private conversations. I trust Senator Collins. Even when we don’t agree, we can actually have confidential private conversations.” 

In the video, Collins responded to the endorsement by saying she appreciates the support from the group.

“Let me thank you so much for the endorsement and tell you how truly grateful I am for your support, for the league’s support,” Collins told Conley.  

The League has a long history of anti-LGBTQ activism. In addition to running anti-same-sex marriage referendum campaigns in 2009 and 2013, the group successfully worked to pass referendums in 1998 and 2000 denying basic anti-discrimination protections to gay and lesbian Mainers. It lost a referendum campaign on the same issue in 2005.

In 2004, the League sought “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” about the sexual orientation of Maine legislators, hoping to out gay political figures.

More recently, the League has targeted transgender children, launching online campaigns against school districts who put in place protections against discrimination in line with a 2014 court ruling protecting the rights of transgender Mainers.

Last year, the League launched unsuccessful campaigns to gather signatures to force referendums against a death with dignity policy passed by the Maine legislature and a law guaranteeing insurance coverage for abortion. The group also supported a campaign by an allied organization to repeal a law that barred philosophical and religious exemptions for mandatory childhood vaccines. Mainers voted to uphold that law during the March primary.

During her interview with the League, Collins pledged to be a firewall in the U.S. Senate against progressive priorities, including Medicare for All — which a majority of Mainers support — and expanding federal health care coverage for abortion. 

 Collins — who says she is pro-choice despite voting to confirm a number of anti-choice judges — emphasized in the interview her continued support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal money to pay for abortions except in cases of incest or rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. 

“I’ve always felt that was a good policy on what is for America such a difficult issue,” Collins said. 

However, because the Hyde Amendment disallows using federal Medicaid funds for abortion, it disproportionately impacts groups who tend to rely on the program for health care, such as low-income individuals, people of color, immigrants and young people.  

Amy Cookson, the spokesperson in Maine for Planned Parenthood Votes — which has endorsed Gideon — said most people feel politicians and insurance companies shouldn’t be deciding whether or not women can get an abortion. 

“And that’s what happens with the Hyde Amendment,” Cookson said. “The Hyde Amendment stops people who need an abortion from getting one by preventing them from using their health care coverage. That doesn’t feel right to most of us, and yet Senator Collins is now celebrating that she is helping maintain this law.” 

‘It’s clear to all of us that Senator Collins has changed’

Cookson said she is disappointed to see Collins embracing an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ group, which she said is “out of step with the vast majority of Maine people.” 

EqualityMaine, an LGBTQ advocacy group, also slammed Collins’ decision to accept the endorsement. 

“The election is two weeks away, and Susan Collins isn’t even pretending to be a moderate anymore. She’s ‘truly grateful’ for the support of radical extremists like Michael Heath and the Christian Civic League,” the group tweeted, referencing the longtime former head of the CCL who helped form new groups aimed at repealing same-sex marriage and criminalizing LGBTQ people, including one recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In an interview, Gia Drew, program director at EqualityMaine, said Collins’ enthusiastic acceptance of the League’s endorsement is telling.

“The Christian Civic League has a long history of opposing virtually all LGBTQ issues and laws and policies,” Drew said. “And so when they came out enthusiastically in support of Susan Collins, I think it really shows where Susan Collins is, her true colors.” 

Drew said the League endorsement draws yet another contrast between Collins and Gideon, who EqualityMaine has endorsed.

“For such a long time, Susan Collins has been very lukewarm in terms of her support of LGTBQ issues, and I think Sara Gideon has been all in the entire time she’s served as a representative. So for us this is a clear distinction between the candidates,” Drew said.

To Cookson, Collins’ longstanding portrayal of herself as a moderate has been punctured by her stances as of late.

“I think it’s clear to all of us that Senator Collins has changed and she’s not the senator she once was,” Cookson said, noting Collins had previously been praised by groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign. Both groups are backing Gideon in the current election. 

Cookson said Collins’ recent record shows exactly who the senator stands with, noting that Collins has voted with Trump over 90 percent of the time and has confirmed 95 percent of the president’s judicial nominees who made it to a roll-call vote, including many who are hostile to reproductive health and rights. 

“Despite what [Collins] says, her actions make it very clear that she can’t be trusted to protect our health and rights, including safe legal abortion,” Cookson said.  

A spokesperson for Collins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photo: Screenshot of Susan Collins in an interview with the Christian Civic League of Maine.  

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