The controversy over yesterday's ruling that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has performed a "full flop" on gay marriage amounts to little more than a tempest in a teapot.

But worse, it badly misses the most important point: Reed did change his position on marriage rights for same-sex couples, and we (and he) should embrace that fact and use it to convince other politicians to change, too.

Mayor Reed’s tempest in a gay marriage teapot

The mayor’s campaign staff went into a tizzy when the article, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Politifact project, came out yesterday.

They denounced the article via Twitter, using hashtags like #AJCfalse, and rallied gay supporters to do the same. Last night, they even issued a lengthy rebuttal to the AJC story, nearly 1,000 words long.

All of that despite that the AJC/Politifact article went to great pains to detail Reed’s history of support for other LGBT issues, including civil unions, and to stress that his change of position on the narrower issue of marriage equality should not necessarily be viewed negatively.

“First, a quick reminder about the Flip-O-Meter,” the article begins. “It makes no value judgment. Some might see a flip as a sign of weakness or political opportunism, but it can also be the outcome of an earnest re-evaluation of the facts.”

If the mayor’s office was looking for coverage of the controversy, they got it.

Project Q Atlanta covered it. Creative Loafing covered it. Conservative Georgia political blog Peach Pundit covered it. Even national gay newsmagazine the Advocate covered it.

Missed opportunity

GA Voice posted our own blog yesterday morning about the article and the mayor’s response, engendering our own note of concern from the mayor’s office — even though our column actually supported the mayor even more directly.

“Why exactly is a change of position a bad thing for a politician? If we demand our politicos entrench themselves in their positions, new circumstances and situations can come along that make those policies look mighty silly down the road… 

“We demand so much from our elected officials. One mistake here or a miscalculated vote or policy there and voters won’t hesitate to give them the boot. It shouldn’t have to be that way,” stated the column by Ryan Watkins, with background from Dyana Bagby.

“I have three words, Mr. Mayor,” Watkins wrote. “Embrace the flop.”

I agree, and quite honestly, the extensive reaction from the mayor’s office to the Politifact article baffles me.

AJC writer Willoughby Mariano interviewed me for the gay marriage piece. When I first got her request to chat about whether it was fair to say that Reed “flipped” on the subject, I was a little taken aback.

Frankly, the question seemed so obvious to me that I was a bit surprised it was even fodder for Politifact.

In the past Reed did not support allowing gay couples to marry (and was quite open and defensive of that position, including in this interview with GA Voice). In December, he announced he had changed his position. Simple enough.

If the question was whether Reed had flipped on LGBT rights more generally, the discussion would be much more nuanced, and the answer, I would argue, would be “no,” since he has always been broadly supportive, and remains so.

But on marriage? He didn’t support it. Now he does. That’s a change, or even a “flip” as the term is used as slang in political talk (and as the AJC defines it, “‘a major reversal of position.”) And it’s a great one that we are thrilled he has made.

In fact, it’s the “flip” that many LGBT advocates are trying to get the whole country to make.

That’s where the mayor should put his focus, especially since he has a powerful personal story for how his change on the issue occurred, and he has said he wants to be an advocate for gay marriage going forward.

To that end, a more productive response to the AJC article might have started — and ended — something like this:

“While we disagree with the word ‘flip-flop’ because we think it implies something negative or not heartfelt, it is true that after much consideration, Mayor Reed changed his position to support marriage equality. He believes in full equality for all Americans and hopes to convince others to ‘flip-flop’ on marriage rights for gay couples, too.”

Reed is a powerful speaker and can be an influential ally.

It’s a shame all of yesterday’s effort went to the cause of defending the mayor’s reputation and turning public opinion against the AJC, rather than advancing the cause of marriage equality.