As executive committee leaders of the successful Mainers United for Marriage campaign, which passed the nation’s first marriage equality voter initiative, we write today to endorse Shenna Bellows for U.S. Senate, and to share our enthusiasm for her campaign.

Working with Shenna for seven years to expand Mainers’ civil rights – including allowing same-sex couples to marry – showed us she’s the kind of dynamic, hardworking leader our state needs in Washington.

In 2006, as we were laying the foundation for a public education campaign on marriage equality, we asked Shenna to join our leadership team because we knew she was hardworking, principled and determined to win the tough fights. From Day One, and for seven consecutive years, Shenna’s contributions were invaluable.

Her coalition-building approach to passing legislation led her to set up dozens of well-publicized news conferences with groups of supporters including business owners, medical professionals and faith leaders, to name just a few, all of whom conveyed important messages about why same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

We won the freedom to marry in Maine due in no small part to Shenna’s strategic communications and brilliant legislative advocacy.

When voters and activists told us it was too soon for marriage equality and the fight couldn’t be won, Shenna stood shoulder to shoulder with the leadership team in firmly believing that equality wasn’t just the right fight, it was a winnable fight.

She led the effort to establish Republicans United for Marriage at a time when very few people saw the potential for that kind of coalition-building. To this day, many of those Republicans – and a growing number – are engaged in the movement to win full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Maine.

Her determination and hard work speak volumes about the kind of person she is and the kind of leader she will be. Without her leadership skills at the table, gay and lesbian Mainers might still be waiting for the freedom to marry.

Marriage equality isn’t the only victory in which Shenna played a critical role. We were fortunate to have her as part of the leadership team that defeated a dangerous 2007 transgender discrimination bill. She was also essential in writing and passing Maine’s 2012 anti-bullying law that provides schools with more resources to combat bullying against all youth.

These weren’t easy fights, and like marriage equality, they weren’t short fights. Shenna’s early, strong, out-in-front stances – and the hard and persistent work she did to back them up – are good examples of why we support her this year over Sen. Susan Collins, who until recently has been silent on marriage equality.

We have appreciated the support of Sen. Collins on several LGBT issues, and in particular her leadership on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but her lack of support on the critically important issue of marriage equality during the two statewide referendum campaigns in 2009 and 2012 clearly differentiates Sen. Collins from Shenna Bellows.

Shenna doesn’t just support issues important to Maine, she also stands up and leads the charge. Her activism and willingness to keep working for years to help win the freedom to marry – in addition to the myriad of other issues on which she has been a leader – prove she has the vision and leadership our state needs in Congress. The contrast is clear, and we think the choice is, too.

One more point needs to be made. Sen. Collins’ unwavering support for Gov. LePage is a grave concern to us. He has been an intentionally divisive figure from the day he took office, and she has not stood up to him.

Shenna Bellows practices the politics of conscience, even when it means taking the long road instead of the easy road.

She’s the leader we need, and that’s why we hope you’ll join us in supporting her.

— Special to the Press Herald