Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine has joined the growing number of her former colleagues in Congress who support same-sex marriage.

Snowe, a moderate Republican, made her position known in an interview with CNN, released Friday.

“I think obviously this has evolved over time on the whole issue for the whole country and the nation,” she told CNN. “We’ve seen a sea change in society’s whole attitude on this particular issue and it’s only natural for government to be responsive to those changes.”

It’s a change of heart for the ex-senator, who voted in 1996 for the Defense of Marriage Act, which rules out federal marriage benefits for same-sex couples who are married under state laws. Maine legalized gay marriage in 2012.

As a senator, Snowe stayed neutral on whether she supported same-sex marriage, even as Maine considered the issue.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine favors gay marriage and has been public about it since the 1990s, according to his spokeswoman, Crystal Canney. U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud are longtime supporters.

In Maine’s congressional delegation, only Sen. Susan Collins hasn’t taken a definitive position. 

In a statement Friday, Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said, “this matter is best left up to the states, which have traditionally handled family law, and increasingly, the voters of states are choosing to legalize same-sex marriages as Maine did last fall.”

Kelley noted that Collins has twice voted against amendments to the Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage by pre-empting state laws.

Collins’ stance on gay marriage has generated much buzz in the media during Congress’ two-week Easter break, which ends Monday.

She’s widely regarded as one of the Senate’s friendlier Republicans to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, evidenced by her prominent role in ending the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The recent changes of heart on same-sex marriage by two Republican senators — Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois — led to media speculation about whether Collins could be next. Ten other senators have endorsed gay marriage in recent days, bringing the total to 53 senators, including King.

“Very famously, the senator does things on her time and we certainly do respect that,” Gregory Angelo, executive director of the gay rights advocacy group Log Cabin Republicans, told Metro Weekly. “Personally, I think this would be a great way for her to lead on an issue, much as she did on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]

On Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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