June 23, 2018
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Collins declares support for marriage equality, but that’s not good enough

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Sen. Susan Collins gets an endorsement from Angus King in this May 16 photo.
By Greg Bates, Special to the BDN

How is it that Chad Griffin, a man famous for organizing the lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8 that had banned gay marriage, has endorsed a senator who believes that states should have the right to enact that ban?

Late last month, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT group in the nation and headed by Griffin, endorsed Sen. Susan Collins in her bid for re-election. Prior to that endorsement she maintained that gay marriage was an issue that states should decide, and also remained silent on her personal views.

Only after the endorsement did she declare her views.

“A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision,” she told the Bangor Daily News. However, she has not altered her position that it should be a matter for states to decide.

As she told the Associated Press last year, “I’ve always felt that domestic relations, including marriage, should be dealt with at the state level,” she said. “My philosophy has been to stay out of state issues.”

To Collins’ credit, she has worked hard on LGBT issues, seeking to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and she worked on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, to end workplace discrimination. With the Human Rights Campaign endorsement we can see the obvious political expediency in its choice to back a rare Republican ally.

What’s odd about HRC’s endorsement is that the group is silent on Collins’ challenger, Shenna Bellows. Her advocacy of marriage equality features seven years as a leader of Mainers United for Marriage, serving as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and keeping a pledge not to marry her fiancé until the right to do so was granted in Maine to the LGBT community.

There hasn’t been a moment in the annals of endorsements this embarrassing since the committee that awards the Man Booker prize for best British fiction refused to choose J.K. Rowling.

Rowling didn’t need Man Booker to reach her audience of Harry Potter fans. And Bellows doesn’t need the endorsement of a human rights group that is out to play a cynical game of political odds; her widely known track record is utterly devoid of considerations of political expediency.

As Griffin knows from experience, expediency is not how political change happens. Just a few years ago, it was widely viewed as politically foolhardy for his team to challenge California’s Proposition 8 and take it all the way to the Supreme Court. Yet they admirably took risks that others felt were unwise and changed the face of the country.

On the other end of the political spectrum, the tea party has also shown that expediency can be ineffective. We further our agenda when we tell allies bluntly, “That’s not good enough.”

But is attacking Collins’ defense of states’ rights going overboard? And isn’t the Human Rights Campaign endorsement at least understandable, if uncomfortable? Why not laud Collins for sticking her neck out on LGBT issues as a Republican, even if she doesn’t go far enough for some of us?

The idea that states should decide marriage equality issues sounds like a technicality that reasonable people can disagree on. Who should get to make the decision, the feds or the states?

It’s a question we ask on many issues. And the belief that states should decide marriage issues cuts across party lines — President Obama held to that before switching sides in the campaign season of 2012. In light of all this, shouldn’t we respect Collins’ belief that the power rests with the states on this one, even if we disagree?

Her position may seem reasonable today, but it’s unlikely to stand the test of time.

One hundred years ago, it would have been expedient in some circles to believe that the right of African-Americans and whites to intermarry was a matter best left to the states. Today such views would be seen as reprehensible at best. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another century for Collins’ position to be seen in the same light.

Greg Bates is an editor and tutor living in Monroe.


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