Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks out of the Senate at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Sen. Susan Collins is signing on as sponsor of a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill, the only Senate Republican to back the LGBT rights movement’s top legislative priority.

Collins said she’s worked throughout her career to end discrimination and that “all Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream.”

“It is time we ensure that all people are judged on their talents and abilities, and have full access to the services they need and the opportunities they seek. This bill marks the beginning of that process, and I urge my colleagues to join me as we take steps to build bipartisan consensus around the Equality Act,” Collins said Wednesday in a statement.

The Equality Act of 2019, introduced Wednesday, would extend protections based on sexual orientation to employment, housing, public accommodations and public services. Many states, including Maine, already have adopted such protections.

In the Senate, Collins is the lead GOP sponsor of the bill. The lead Democratic sponsors are Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and New Jersey’s Cory Booker.

In the House, two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York, announced plans to be co-sponsors.

Nondiscrimination protections have become a focus for LGBT people since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015.

LGBT activists, citing national polls, say a majority of Americans support anti-discrimination legislation. Opponents say they can be problematic in terms of access to public restrooms and locker rooms, as well as transgender women’s participation in some competitive sports.

Collins said she has long been a supporter of gay rights, pressing for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for military personnel to advocating for the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The Maine Human Rights Act was amended to ensure LGBT protections in 2005, and it was subsequently upheld by a state referendum. Gay marriage became legal in Maine in 2012 following a referendum.

Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report.