PITTSFIELD — Nov. 7, 2013, was a historic day for our nation when the U.S. Senate, after nearly two decades of effort, passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This landmark achievement is a victory for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, who embrace our national values of equality, fairness and justice.

Credit for this victory must go to every one of the 64 senators – Democrats, Republicans and independents – who voted for ENDA. One who deserves special mention for her longstanding support, effective advocacy and bipartisan spirit is our own Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

I went into public service because I believe in representing the values and beliefs of my hardworking constituents. And in the debate around ENDA, I was proud to see Sen. Collins continue to represent those values. In Maine, we understand the importance of being able to work hard, earn a decent living and advance based on your merits.

During her first term in the Senate in 2002, Sen. Collins joined Sen. Ted Kennedy in sponsoring ENDA to extend the same civil rights protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offered to racial minorities and the Americans with Disabilities Act offered to citizens with disabilities.

Like the bills that had been introduced since 1994 and until this year, however, ENDA failed to pass. Undeterred, Sen. Collins persevered. As an original co-sponsor of the 2013 bill, she worked to build a coalition that led to ENDA’s eventual success.

Demonstrating the legislative skills for which she is well-known, she worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance the bill. She brought Republicans and Democrats together to achieve a consensus on the anti-retaliation provision for religious institutions; this secured crucial additional support that paved the way for the historic vote to pass the bill.

Demonstrating the fairness for which Mainers are known, Sen. Collins asserted, “Individuals in the workplace should be judged solely on their skills, abilities, and job performance.”

She strengthened the case for ENDA considerably with her command of facts. The information she provided colleagues included that nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies already had LGBT nondiscrimination policies because those policies allow companies to attract and to retain talented employees. She pointed out that these protections had been the law in Maine for nearly a decade, yet it remains legal in 29 states to fire or refuse to hire someone due to sexual orientation.

Throughout the Senate debate, Sen. Collins repeatedly stressed that ENDA is about fairness and workplace equality. As the decisive vote neared on the afternoon of Nov. 7, she said: “All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream. ENDA is simply about the fundamental right to work and to be judged according to one’s abilities, qualifications, and job performance.”

Those words resonated with me. As a supporter of last year’s successful Yes on 1 campaign, I understand and respect the importance of treating all Mainers – and all Americans – with dignity and respect.

She reminded her colleagues that, over the years, we have rightly taken a stand against workplace discrimination, prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, national origin and disability, and it is past time that we close this gap for LGBT employees.

“Passing ENDA was,” she said, “the right thing to do.” Thanks to her determination and dedication, the Senate did the right thing.

Supporters of equal rights for LGBT Americans were not surprised by Sen. Collins’ advocacy. After all, in 2010, she teamed with then-Sen. Joe Lieberman to lead the repeal of the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexual orientation.

Her view was that if men and women are willing to put on the uniform of our country, serve in distant lands and risk their lives for freedom, they should be thanked, not excluded. That, too, was the right thing to do.

In Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine values of treating everyone fairly and valuing people for their abilities, hard work and dedication have an effective voice in Washington, D.C.


— Special to the Press Herald