In a move that's unsurprising but nonetheless troubling, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) endorsed Sen. Susan Collins in her bid for a fourth term earlier today.
Collins has been a trailblazer on gay rights issues among congressional Republicans. But her record pales in comparison to those of many non-Republican actors on the political stage, including Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, who was a leader in the 2012 Maine marriage referendum fight and a stalwart supporter of the LGBT community during her years at the ACLU of Maine.
HRC made waves during the 2008 campaign when it backed Collins over a Democratic challenger who had a better record on LGBT issues according to HRC's own scorecard.
At the time, HRC defended the move on "bipartisanship" grounds in an e-mail to this blog:
HRC is a bipartisan organization. This is not an empty principle or a meaningless nod to an ideal we do not follow. We are bipartisan because equality knows no party, and because we simply cannot achieve justice for the entire GLBT community by conceding that only Democrats should care about us.
Of course, as I noted in the same post, "the onus should be on Republicans to sign onto HRC's agenda--rather than on HRC to bend its standards to accommodate members of the GOP."
But this time around, HRC or Collins--or both--took that advice to heart. Because just a few hours after the endorsement hit, news arrived that Collins now supports same-sex marriage, albeit in a limited, qualified sense:
"A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision."
[Collins spokesman Lance Dutson] said the senator had been silent on the issue previously because she believes it is the voters of each state--not U.S. senators--who should make the decision on marriage equality.
"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 [today] about her personal stance on this issue, she said she supports it."
So it's a personal view: Collins isn't supporting a federal marriage right; or updating her dodge about the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act; or even divulging how she voted in the 2012 state referendum.
She's just saying she's cool with same-sex marriage within the borders of Maine (something that's already on the books) from this day forward.
Not exactly crusading for the cause. But good enough for HRC apparently.
Still, the story is cringeworthy for a reason having nothing to do with the half-heartedness of the message or the fecklessness of HRC. Namely: Why did Collins decide to go out of her way to make her about-face on marriage appear to be a quid pro quo?
I can't think of a precedent for the kind of juxtaposition we saw today, and it's not hard to understand why: When you announce a change of heart on a profound issue of conscience just a few hours after receiving an endorsement from an organization that focuses on the issue in question, it can't help but read as a transactional, even mercenary move.
Surely, there's got to be some plausible reason for why Maine's senior senator chose to time things this way. But I can't seem to come up with any compelling theories.