A national organization that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equal rights has endorsed U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in her re-election campaign.

Collins, R-Maine, is facing Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. 

“Sen. Susan Collins has played a pivotal role in advancing support for LGBT equality — from her dogged support for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to her critical vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last year,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“HRC is proud to stand with Sen. Collins, and with allies on both sides of the aisle like her, because she firmly believes that every American should be evaluated based on their abilities, and not who they love,” Griffin said.

Collins said she was grateful for the support.

“HRC fully understands the need to have allies in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses, and I am proud of the reputation that I have established for working with my Senate colleagues of both parties in a bipartisan spirit for fairness and equality,” Collins said. “I look forward to our continued work to bring people together and remove barriers that divide us.”

The Human Rights Campaign is one of the nation’s largest civil rights organizations, representing more than 1.5 million members and supporters.

The endorsement may come as a blow to the Bellows campaign. She has made a point of her support of LGBT equal rights and successfully lobbied to expand Maine’s Human Rights Act to allow penalties for those who discriminate against others based on sexual orientation or gender.

As head of the ACLU of Maine, Bellows worked on a successful statewide ballot initiative in 2012 that legalized same-sex marriage in Maine. She has also said she postponed her marriage to Brandon Baldwin because she wanted to wait until all Mainers were treated fairly.

Bellows said Wednesday the HRC endorsement of Collins was only one endorsement in an election year, and her long history of advocacy for equal rights in Maine spoke for itself.

She criticized Collins for not publicly supporting the 2012 ballot initiative in Maine to legalize same-sex marriage.

“My opponent, Republican Susan Collins, had the chance to speak up in favor of marriage equality in 2012 or any time in the previous decade,” Bellows said. “Two years after her constituents made their feelings known at the ballot box, she has refused to break her silence.”

 In 2010, Collins was the only Republican on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee to vote to include repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the Defense Authorization bill, according to the HRC release.

The policy, issued in December 1993, prohibited military personnel from discriminating against gay servicemen and women, but barred openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from service.

Collins also has long supported efforts to extend federal benefits, health insurance and tax benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees. And she has supported providing the U.S. Department of Justice with the resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

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