BANGOR, Maine — Rep. Mike Michaud, a six-term congressman from East Millinocket and the likely 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maine, has revealed that he is gay.

Michaud, who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, made his announcement in a column submitted late Sunday concurrently to the Bangor Daily News, The Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald.

In his column, Michaud said he chose to make public his sexual orientation to defuse “whisper campaigns” allegedly launched by his political opponents about whether he is gay. Michaud would become the nation’s first openly gay governor if elected in 2014.

“Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer,” wrote Michaud. “‘Yes, I am. But why should it matter?’”

Michaud was not available for an interview Sunday, according to his campaign.

“Growing up in a large Franco-American Catholic family, it’s never been in my nature to talk about myself,” Michaud wrote in his column. “I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am. And if seeing someone from my background, in my position openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better.

“I don’t plan to make my personal life or my opponents’ personal lives an issue in this campaign,” he added. “We’ve had enough negativity in our politics and too many personal attacks over the last few years. We owe it to the people of Maine to focus on how we get our state back on track.”

With this announcement, Michaud is the seventh openly gay or bisexual member of the U.S. House of Representatives. All are Democrats.

Announcements by politicians running for statewide or federal offices that they are gay has had arguably little effect on their candidacies, though there are few examples of it happening.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, elected in 2012, is the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Although she had served in the U.S. House, Baldwin’s sexual orientation was raised during her  Senate campaign, most often by journalists, she said in a January interview.

But her sexual orientation was not the main concern of voters in her race against two-term Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

“The campaign wasn’t about me. … It wasn’t about Tammy versus Tommy, even though at some points it seemed to become that,” she told The Advocate, an LGBT publication. “It was about the epic challenges facing this nation.”

Michaud offered a similar rationale in his column. Repeating a theme he regularly makes at his gubernatorial campaign stops, Michaud argued that his values and temperament, not his sexual orientation, should be the focus of the 2014 contest for the Blaine House.

“For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine,” he wrote.

Michaud also questioned the motives of political opponents who use “insinuations and push-polls” about his personal life rather than campaigning against his political positions, but did not go into specifics.

David Farmer, Michaud’s campaign spokesman, said the campaign does not know who did the push-polls, but that they know they happened because people trusted by the campaign had received calls asking such questions.

Shortly after announcing his plans to run for governor, Michaud hired Matt McTighe of York as his campaign manager. McTighe led last year’s successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. Michaud also hired Farmer, who was communications director for Mainers United for Marriage, the group behind the successful referendum.

In recent years, gay rights initiatives have shown a marked spike in spending from political action committees and other groups inside and outside Maine, which could benefit Michaud in his gubernatorial run.

The Sunlight Foundation reported earlier this year that more than $17 million was spent on state and federal gay rights or marriage ballot initiatives in 2012 alone. It reported $3.4 million of that was spent in Maine. Supporters of gay marriage in Maine outspent opponents several times over.

The lopsided spending wasn’t only in Maine. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, told Reuters that groups opposing same-sex marriage nationally were outspent by at least 4-to-1 in 2012.

Michaud, who served 11 terms in the Maine Legislature — seven in the House and four in the Senate — has an evolving record on gay rights legislation. After early opposition to gay rights issues, he softened his stance by voting to send the matter out to referendum and later sponsoring legislation to allow domestic partners of state employees to receive health benefits under the state plan.

In 2004, Michaud said “yes,” when asked by Project Vote Smart if marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. He also said “yes” to allowing civil unions for gay couples. In 2004, he voted against a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage and in 2006, he opposed another attempt at a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

In 2007, Michaud voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which made it illegal for employers to make hiring decisions based on sexual orientation, even though he was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Michaud said at the time that he opposed the act because it was not inclusive enough, specifically because it did not protect transgender people.

“The bill that the House of Representatives ultimately voted on fell short of what a majority of Mainers voted for in November of 2005,” said Michaud at the time, referring to a citizen-initiated statewide referendum that preserved the Maine Human Rights Act, versions of which had been vetoed in 1993 and repealed by referendum in 1998 and 2000.

“I heard from a lot of my constituents on this issue and just couldn’t support a bill that doesn’t live up to the non-discrimination protections of our state,” said Michaud.

In 2012, when 52.6 percent of Maine voters approved same-sex marriage, Michaud said he supported the measure.

Michaud is now also one of three openly gay gubernatorial candidates in the United States. Gay Democrats in Rhode Island and Maryland are seeking their party’s nominations to run for governor in those states, but they don’t have Michaud’s political experience or clout.

The only sitting governor to declare he was gay was New Jersey Democrat James McGreevy, a married father of two, who did so during his resignation speech in August 2004 after admitting he had an affair with a man. With his wife by his side, he uttered the memorable line: “My truth is that I am a gay American.”

Democrat Dale McCormick, who was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1990, is generally identified as the first openly gay member of the Maine Legislature.

The first openly gay member of Congress was Rep. Gerry Studds, a Democrat from Massachusetts. The best known is former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, also of Massachusetts, who is now retired.

Like Michaud, Studds and Frank revealed their sexual orientation while serving in Congress. Frank came out in 1987, telling the Boston Globe: “I don’t think my sex life is relevant to my job, but on the other hand I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m embarrassed about my life.”

In his column, Michaud wrote that the reasons for his announcement are as personal as his sexual orientation itself, but that if coming out has wider repercussions, so be it.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.