Though Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has lost several key endorsements to Democratic challenger Sara Gideon this election cycle, she received the full support last week of at least one group in her state: the anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine.
During an Oct. 13 interview with CCL of Maine executive director Carroll Conley, Collins ― who has positioned herself as a supporter of LGBTQ issues and reproductive rights ― said she was “truly grateful” for the group’s endorsement.
“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, as first reported Wednesday by The Maine Beacon.
CCL of Maine, a political lobbying group founded in 1897 to support prohibition of alcohol and later to advocate for conservative Christian policies, is staunchly anti-abortion, opposes same-sex marriage and supports so-called conversion therapy ― a practice condemned by LGBTQ civil rights advocates.
The group also partners with the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom ― two organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their anti-LGBTQ views.
Some LGBTQ advocates saw Collins’ embrace of the endorsement as a desperate attempt to win over conservative voters during her toughest reelection bid to date.
Recent polling shows the four-term incumbent in a virtual tie against Gideon. Two others ― independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn ― are also vying for Collins’ seat. Democrats see flipping Collins’ seat in November as key to regaining control of the Senate.
“Embracing an extremist anti-LGBTQ group’s endorsement is nothing less than opportunistic in the waning days of this campaign,” said Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBTQ civil rights group.
“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,” Acosta continued in his statement.
Collins’ campaign did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.
Collins previously gained the backing of some LGBTQ and reproductive rights advocates by identifying herself as a pro-choice, moderate Republican. In 2014, she became the fourth GOP senator to publicly support same-sex marriage and she was the lead Republican sponsor of the anti-discrimination Equality Act in 2019. She’s also defended federal funding for reproductive health groups like Planned Parenthood.
But Collins’ voting record in recent years has drawn the ire of liberal-minded voters, LGBTQ community members and allies, and abortion rights activists. She’s voted to confirm dozens of judges who have espoused anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ views.
She’s also helped further the agendas of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) through several critical votes, including to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018 and to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial earlier this year.
Her unwillingness to break from McConnell on key issues caused her in part to lose the endorsements of NARAL and Planned Parenthood ― two major reproductive rights groups ― as well as HRC to Gideon this election cycle.
HRC’s Acosta bashed Collins’ apparent excitement over CCL of Maine’s support.
“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,” Acosta said.
CCL of Maine has a long history of anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion activism, including opposing anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ community members in Maine and picketing outside of reproductive health clinics.
In a statement announcing its support for Collins and Trump, CCL of Maine said it has chosen to endorse candidates they believe will “defend the unborn, religious freedom and parental rights.”
(“Parental rights” is essentially a euphemism for conversion therapy. On its website, CCL of Maine warns against allowing “biology-deniers” to pass legislation that would prohibit “any discussion between your child and a licensed therapist that affirms your child’s biological reality.”)
During her interview last week with CCL of Maine, Collins touted herself as a “firewall” in the Senate to prevent the passage of “really extreme legislation,” which she said includes “Medicare for All.”
She also said her reelection was necessary for preventing the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk or the unwanted pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
When asked how she would act as a “firewall” against anti-discrimination legislation that would impact religious entities, Collins responded that it was a “very important” and “very legitimate” question.
“My view is that if you are a commercial business that is serving the public then you should be bound by anti-discrimination provisions,” Collins said. “However, if you are a church, I think it’s totally different. I don’t think you should be forced to hire people who aren’t of your religion, for example.”
“I don’t think that any church should be required in opposition to its doctrine to preside over same-sex marriages, yet I do believe that a civil same-sex marriage is fine,” she added. “But I would never force any religion to perform a same-sex marriage when it’s against their beliefs.”
Conley concluded the interview by thanking Collins for her service and warning listeners that there’s “so much at stake” in the November election.
“We believe that Susan Collins is a major part ― as she said, that firewall ― for what is at the front door right now in this country,” Conley said. “This is a major turning point. This is a time for conservatives and folks that care about the life issue, that care about our republic, they care about our Constitution to put our differences aside and to recognize the value of this candidacy.”