Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed today stated his support for marriage equality for same-sex couples, capping off a controversy that has dogged him since his 2009 mayoral race.
Reed made the announcement via a lengthy press release about his decision to sign a marriage equality resolution passed Dec. 3 by the Atlanta City Council. The resolution, approved by the council by a vote of 11-2, was sponsored by Council member Alex Wan, who is openly gay.
“Today marks an important day as I announce my support for marriage equality,” Reed said in the press release. “It is well known that I have gone through a good bit of reflection on this issue, but listening to the stories of so many people that I know and care about has strengthened my belief that marriage is a fundamental right for everyone. Loving couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the right to marry whomever they want.
“By signing this resolution, I pledge my support to marriage equality for same-sex couples, consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the mayor said.
Wan told the GA Voice in by phone that the mayor called him out of a work session of the Public Safety Committee about 2:45 p.m. today.
“I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what he wanted. I knew it had to be about the resolution, but I didn’t know what he was going to say,” Wan said.
When Wan walked into the mayor’s office, Reed’s entire leadership team was with him and the mayor told him that he was signing the resolution and also coming out in support of marriage equality.
“I had no idea” this was going to happen, Wan said. “But for him to sign it and to come up with a position statement — I kept thanking him.
“I get it. Everyone has to go through their own process. All that matters to me is you reach the right decision,” Wan added.
Wan was there as Reed signed the resolution and the mayor then gave him the pen he signed the resolution with.
“I’m very proud of our city,” Wan said. “Over the last eight days, the council came out with a strong position and for the mayor to do that — that’s as strong a message a city can send.”
Neither the City Council resolution nor the mayor’s signature grants any new legal rights to same-sex couples in Atlanta, but LGBT activists argue it sends a powerful message in support of equality.
“I think it’s a wonderful Christmas present. He’s given this serious thought and he’s come to the conclusuion that it’s the right thing. He can’t miss what’s happening across the country with regard to marriage. He just needed time to dliberate and think about this from a personal perspective,” said longtime gay politico and former State House candidate Ken Britt, one of several LGBT activists who met with Reed in June 2012 to discuss the issue.
The meeting was asked for after President Barack Obama stated publicly in May that he supported marriage equality. Reed responded with a statement that he was still “wrestling” with the issue.
“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,” Reed said at the time.
Charlie Stadtlander was also among the group of local LGBT activists that met with Reed over the summer. Stadtlander said today by phone that he hoped Reed would use his office to promote marriage equality on a national level.
“I think that Mayor Reed’s endorsement is beneficial as a lobbying position on a national level. I believe that he will use his position to really push nationally in whatever way he can to make sure we’re victorious on this issue,” Stadtlander said.
Stadtlander created a Facebook campaign that called on Reed to support marriage equality. He also created a petition on the website Change.org that received more than 5,000 signatures.
Reed is up for reelection in 2013. His refusal to back marriage equality has dogged him since the 2009 mayoral race. Reed supported LGBT civil rights as a member of the state House and Senate, including sponsoring a hate crime bill that was later struck down as too vague.
But Reed’s refusal to support gay marriage was enough to drive many gay and lesbian voters to support his two chief opponents in the mayoral race, City Council President Lisa Borders and City Councilmember Mary Norwood. Georgia Equality endorsed Borders in the general election, then declined to issue an endorsement in the runoff election between Reed and Norwood.
Still, many prominent gay leaders backed Norwood, and in a 2010 interview with GA Voice, Reed acknowledged that while he won the election by the slimmest of margins, he lost District 6 – home to Atlanta’s highest concentration of gay voters – by a landslide.
“Despite having a record that I think was overwhelmingly stronger than any other individual in the race, and having a record that is stronger than any sitting elected official in the state,” Reed said then.
Reed faced renewed pressure to support marriage equality in May of this year, after President Barack Obama announced his personal support for the issue. The meeting with LGBT activists followed, along with an editorial from GA Voice urging Reed to speak out.
The June 27 meeting was attended by Stadtlander, Britt; attorney Lawrie Demorest of Alston & Bird; Pastor Dennis Meredith of Tabernacle Baptist Church; and attorney Doug Brooks, who is married and has children.
Creative Loafing also recently called on Reed to speak out in favor of marriage equality.
The full press release:
Mayor Kasim Reed Announces Support for Marriage Equality
Mayor Reed signs Atlanta City Council resolution sponsored by Councilman Alex Wan and adopted on Dec. 3, 2012
ATLANTA – Mayor Kasim Reed today announced his support for marriage equality by signing a resolution sponsored by Councilman Alex Wan and passed by the City Council on Dec. 3, 2012. The resolution supports the city’s lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community by endorsing marriage equality for same-sex couples.
“Today marks an important day as I announce my support for marriage equality,” said Mayor Reed. “It is well known that I have gone through a good bit of reflection on this issue, but listening to the stories of so many people that I know and care about has strengthened my belief that marriage is a fundamental right for everyone. Loving couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the right to marry whomever they want. By signing this resolution, I pledge my support to marriage equality for same-sex couples, consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Today’s announcement follows years of Mayor Reed’s advocacy for equal rights for gays and lesbians. During his term in the Georgia House of Representatives, Mayor Reed sponsored the only hate crimes bill ever to pass the General Assembly and defended the LGBT community’s right to adopt children. As a co-sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Mayor Reed proposed a measure that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian and nonreligious employers. In 2004, Mayor Reed also voted against the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia.
“I’ve always had the utmost respect for the Mayor. He has been a good friend to my wife De Linda and me and to our community,” said Lee Schreter, a friend of Mayor Reed’s for more than 14 years and a shareholder with the law firm of Littler and Mendelson. “I believe he will be on the right side of history with this decision. I think people have underestimated how important it is to stand up and have your relationship recognized as a true marriage, but those attitudes are changing. I’ve always known that Kasim Reed wants people to be treated fairly and this is evidence of that.”
The resolution approved by the Council and signed by Mayor Reed cites Atlanta’s support of policies that protect equal rights for all citizens, as well as the city’s numerous provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by businesses, stores, hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations, and in housing sales and rentals. The City Code also prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in the city’s employment decisions, and the city offers its employees the ability to enroll a domestic partner for health insurance coverage and to name a domestic partner as a pension beneficiary.
“This is a reflection of the respect and concern for me and my husband Mike that Mayor Reed has shown through all the years of our advocating with him and to him,” said the Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “I have always felt that Mayor Reed both respected my marriage and cared for Mike and me as people. The action he is taking today really reflects that and it feels like a ‘fullness of time’ moment for me.”
The City of Atlanta has one of the highest LGBT populations in the country based on U.S. Census and other data. The Rev. Timothy McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church said he’s encouraged by Mayor Reed’s decision. “I’m grateful for Mayor Reed’s positive, inclusive position on marriage equality,” said the Rev. McDonald. “It is consistent with the NAACP’s position and I’m sure many in the city will celebrate this decision.” Mayor Reed also announced that he will join other leading mayors who have already signed the ‘Mayors for Freedom to Marry’ pledge. Mayors for the Freedom to Marry is a broad-based and nonpartisan group of mayors who believe that all people should be able to share in the love and commitment of marriage. ”Mayor Reed, like the more than 200 other Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, has his eye on the economic growth, prosperity, diversity, and opportunity that the families he serves cherish — and knows that including same-sex couples and their contributions in the community and in marriage strengthens the city and our country,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “As we build toward more wins in 2013, we welcome Mayor Reed’s support at this crucial time in the freedom to marry movement, and are excited to work with him to make the case for the freedom to marry both in Atlanta and across America.”
Mayor Reed added: “I believe in tolerance and acceptance, regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. That creed has been a guiding force for me throughout my life, as reflected by my actions and votes as a lifelong Democrat and elected official in the state of Georgia for more than 14 years.”
Top photo: Mayor Kasim Reed (file)
Second photo: Mayor Reed signing the Atlanta City Council resolution in support of same-sex marriage on Dec. 11, 2012. (Photo via Twitter by Reed spokesperson Sonji Jacobs Dade)