WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from Maine, disclosed Monday that he is gay.
Michaud, who is running for governor, declared his sexual orientation in op-ed columns in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, Maine's two largest newspapers. He did so to address what he called the "whisper campaigns" being waged by political opponents about his personal life.
"Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: Yes, I am. But why should it matter?" wrote Michaud, who is 58 and single. "That may seem like a big announcement to some people. 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."
Michaud becomes the seventh openly gay or bisexual member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is the only openly gay senator.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who is gay, congratulated Michaud for "coming out, living honestly" in a post on Twitter.
"My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMichaud to team #lgbt," Polis tweeted.
Michaud's disclosure comes as the Senate takes up a bill Monday that would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known by its acronym ENDA, fell one vote short of passage in 1996.
Michaud was first elected to the House in 2002, and is viewed as the Democrats' best hope for winning the governor's race in 2014. Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has attracted controversy for some of his statements, is considered one of the most vulnerable governors in the country. Independent Eliot Cutler is also running.
More than 25% of Maine's residents consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, as does Michaud.
The last sitting member of Congress to come out as gay was Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona in 1996. Kolbe retired from the House in January 2007.