The Respect for Marriage Act, the landmark civil rights legislation just signed into federal law by President Biden, took months of hard work and compromise to secure bipartisan passage in both the Senate and House. Through it all, Sen. Susan Collins was a reliable and effective leader in support of this endeavor and many others before it.

Sen. Collins, like the voters of Maine, has recognized the importance of the freedom to marry. In 2012, the state was the first in the nation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through referendum, the citizen-led Question 1 initiative. Just as Maine has served as a national vanguard in LGBTQ rights, Collins herself has consistently occupied a similar position inside the party of Lincoln, by working to advance the causes of fairness and equal rights.

The effectiveness of her tenure is best illustrated through her resiliency, independence, and results. In 2010, Senator Collins led the bipartisan effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In 2015, she was one of only two sitting GOP U.S. Senators to lend her name to an amicus brief of prominent Republicans and Conservatives I circulated calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex unions on a nationwide basis. In recent years, she has been a strong promoter of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in the public square. In each of these circumstances, Collins has stood on the side of inclusiveness, freedom, and fairness within the U.S. Senate.

In the current Congress, Collins has notched major wins for Maine and the country with her work to accomplish major bipartisan initiatives such the Infrastructure & Jobs Act, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and the CHIPS bill. Yet few circumstances better illustrate her leadership in action than what transpired with the Respect for Marriage Act in recent weeks.

Not only did Collins lead the push to enshrine marriage equality into federal law by authoring the bill, she also skillfully worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to orchestrate adoption of an amendment with explicit protections for religious liberties. There is no doubt that these efforts invited criticism from a small, yet vocal, minority of longstanding opponents of LGBTQ rights. Yet, at the same, Republicans and conservatives like myself, and many more from across the country, derived inspiration from Collins’ steadfast determination to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.

Achieving passage of such a significant piece of legislation, such as the Respect for Marriage Act, ultimately begins and ends with the people in the room. Sen. Collins’ can-do commitment and desire to bring congressional leaders to the table have become essential components for major reform in the U.S. Senate. For that, Mainers, and all Americans, should be thankful for her leadership in making the Respect for Marriage Act a reality.

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