The Atlanta City Council voted 11-2 today to pass a resolution supporting marriage equality, said Alex Wan, the council's only openly gay member.
Wan presented the resolution to the full City Council. He told GA Voice the news but also posted to his Facebook page, "Proud to share with everyone that the Atlanta City Council just passed a resolution supporting marriage equality!!!"
The vote puts the council ahead of Mayor Kasim Reed, who has stated publicly he does not support marriage equality. He met with LGBT advocates in June to discuss his stance, but despite the pressure, was still was not willing to change his position even after President Barack Obama came out in support of gay marriage.
UPDATE: Atlanta City Council passes resolution supporting gay marriage
Reed said earlier this year he was still struggling with the issue of supporting full marriage equality.
“I respect President Obama’s decision to stand in support of marriage equality. I have fought hard for the rights of gays and lesbians my entire political career from protecting adoption rights for gay and lesbian families, to voting against Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as a state senator, to serving as the state house sponsor for the only hate crimes bill ever passed in the state of Georgia,” Reed said in a statement at the time.
“While I am still wrestling with my own personal beliefs on the issue of marriage, I deeply appreciate the contributions gays and lesbians make to our city every single day and I remain committed to Atlanta’s vibrant and diverse LGBT community,” he said.
While the Atlanta City Council’s resolution has no legal impact and it remains illegal to get married in Georgia, other councils as well as mayors are stepping up to make symbolic statements of their support for marriage equality.
In September, the Austin, Texas, city council passed a resolution in support of same-sex marriage. Last year in North Carolina, the Durham City Council also passed a resolution in support of gay marriage.
The Freedom to Marry organization also began a Mayors for Freedom of Marriage campaign this year and have 289 mayors from 33 states signed onto the pledge.
UPDATE: In a phone interview this evening, Wan said he had been working on the resolution for awhile but decided to introduce it today after feeling like the timing was right.
“Folks in the community have been asking and encouraging me to do something. And with Atlanta being the city it is and having such a large LGBT population, I really wanted us to be one of the leaders in the discussion on marriage equality,” he said. “This was also very important to me.”
For the past approximately two months, Wan said he has been answering questions from council members who wanted to know, for example, the difference between marriage equality and civil unions and why it was important to make a statement even if the resolution has no legal impact on gay marriage in Georgia.
“Some didn’t understand the concept of marriage equality and civil unions. Some wanted to know why the city should take a position on this when it has no impact,” Wan said. “I explained to them the symbolic statement it makes and that it was more than just having the rights.”
Wan was very pleased with the 11-2 vote. The two no votes were from Howard Shook and C.T. Martin.
Wan said he deliberately kept the resolution under the radar and out of the public’s eye because he didn’t want council members to feel pressure from outside forces.
“[Publicity] was not the motivation. This is just the city council taking a position because it was the right thing to do. It was more important to me to reach this kind of consensus with the council without outside pressure,” he said.
“If the council were to feel pressured, it would be very different than had they arrived at this support on their own. This was council acting independently — because it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Wan said he did speak with Mayor Reed about his resolution at the beginning of his process to get the council’s support of same-sex marriage. However, the mayor and council are separate entities and the vote today was one made by the council regardless of the mayor’s position.
“We had a good conversation about it. It wasn’t about him. This was a position i wanted my city council to take,” Wan said. “I respect his process.”
Sonji Jacobs, spokesperson for Reed, issued a short statement when asked if the mayor had a reaction to the council’s vote: “Mayor Reed respects the decision of the Atlanta City Council in passing a resolution supporting marriage equality.”
“I’ve been working on this awhile and thought at the last council meeting it was time, but the timing was not right. The Victory Fund’s conference was that final inspiration. I thought let’s just do, let’s pull the trigger and put this to a vote,” Wan said.
The language of the resolution was very deliberate and thoughtful, said Wan, who consulted a few times with Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham about the resolution.
“I’m very proud our city council is willing to take this position,” he said. “This was a real accomplishment today.”
The full resolution:
A RESOLUTION BY COUNCILMEMBERS ALEX WAN, CARLA SMITH, FELICIA MOORE, MICHAEL JULIAN BOND, H. LAMAR WILLIS, KWANZA HALL, AARON WATSON
A RESOLUTION DECLARING THE SUPPORT OF THE ATLANTA CITY COUNCIL FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is one of the basic civil rights of the American people, fundamental to our very existence and survival; and
WHEREAS, in 1974, the Supreme Court declared that: “This court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the [Constitution]”; and
WHEREAS, marriages that are deemed legally valid by the federal and state governments provide the married couple with more than 1,138 federal rights, privileges, economic advantages and legal protections; and
WHEREAS, these rights include access to health care, inheritance of social security benefits and eligibility for significant taxation advantages. Protections afforded to each spouse in a legal marriage include protection of their parental relationship with their children, protection of the inheritance rights of their spouse and children, ensuring hospital visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions for their spouse, and protection of property rights; and
WHEREAS, without being declared legally valid, the spouses of same-sex marriages cannot receive these rights, privileges, advantages and protections; and
WHEREAS, recent national polls show that a majority of Americans now believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by law as valid; and
WHEREAS, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Maryland and Maine have legalized marriage for same-sex couples; and
WHEREAS, on February 23, 2011, the Barack Obama administration announced that the US Justice Department would no longer defend in federal court the 1996 federal law entitled the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and its denial of federal recognition to married same-sex couples; and
WHEREAS, the City of Atlanta (“City”) has a rich history in the civil rights movement and and is rightfully considered one of the most progressive cities in the country regarding its policies protecting equal rights for all citizens; and
WHEREAS, the City Atlanta has one of the highest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) populations per capita, ranking third among major American cities; and
WHEREAS, the Atlanta Code of Ordinances (“Code”) has numerous non-discrimination provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by Atlanta businesses, (Code Section 94-112), in housing sales and rentals (Code Section 94-94), and by stores, hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations (Code Section 94-68); and
WHEREAS, City law also prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in the City’s own employment decisions (Code Section 3-502). The City offers its employees the ability to enroll a domestic partner for coverage under the employee’s health insurance plan, and to name a domestic partner as the recipient of the employee’s pension benefits; and
WHEREAS, in 2004, the City passed resolution 04-R-0183, opposing an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that would ban same-sex marriages in Georgia; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA that the Atlanta City Council supports marriage equality for same-sex couples.