Collins’ support of workplace rights for gays earns scorn of conservative women’s group

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Reuters photo by Joshua Roberts.

Maine’s chapter of the Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian women’s activist group, may have earned a few points with liberals last week when they got behind a bill to support victims of human trafficking in the state.

But this week, they got right back to their usual place in the partisan landscape, blasting Sen. Susan Collins in a letter Tuesday for her support of a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Penny Morell, the state director of Maine CWA, said the group opposed the amendment to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act because it stood to threaten the First Amendment rights of religious business owners. She said it “pained” her to write to Collins, who she considered a friend.

“Your vote on ENDA must be countered in some way so that people know the seriousness of what you’ve done,” Morrell said. “As a nation, our laws should encourage and support — not penalize –citizens who seek to consistently adhere to their moral convictions. … We are losing our religious freedom and ENDA is another nail in the coffin.”

In addition to ENDA, Concerned Women for America also opposes abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research. It supports the teaching of so-called “intelligent design” and prayer in schools. It rests its policy positions on its interpretation of Christian scripture.

ENDA was approved by the Senate on Nov. 7 but faces an uphill battle for passage in the House. All of Maine’s four Congressional delegates supported the ENDA amendment. Collins was likely targeted by Morrell because she is the only Republican among those four lawmakers.

If the soaring language she used to praise ENDA moments before it passed the Senate is any indication of the strength of her beliefs, it’s unlikely Collins will be fazed by CWA’s letter. In the speech, she said:

“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream. ENDA is about the fundamental right to work and the right to be judged based on one’s abilities, qualifications, and talents. Much of corporate America has already voluntarily embraced LGBT protections because they know that doing so allows them to retain and attract the best and brightest employees. Nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies. In fact in my home state of Maine, this has been the law for nearly a decade.”

Morrell also pledged her organization’s support for a bill by Maine Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, which would allow an individual, corporation or religious organization claim that a law or regulation burdens a religious practice and sue the government, no matter how minor the apparent infringement.

The bill would allow someone to sue even based on an expected religious constraint, without having to show that any harm had been done. It was held over from the last session and is expected to be voted on during the second session.

Collins is up for re-election in 2014. Her opponent, Shenna Bellows, is a staunch supporter of LGBT rights. She was the state director for the American Civil Liberties Union and spearheaded Mainers United for Marriage, one of the groups that fought for same-sex marriage in Maine.

However, if Collins ever stood to lose the vote of conservative Christians, that ship sailed long ago. She’s had the support of the Human Rights Council for years, and is a member of Republicans for Choice, a group of GOP members who support women’s access to abortion services.

You can read Morrell’s whole letter below:

Open Letter to Susan Collins from the Maine chapter of Concerned Women for America.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.