Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said today he is speaking with former colleagues in the Georgia legislature to work on a bill that would recognize the legal marriages of gay couples who tied the knot in other states and moved back to their home state where they continue to face discrimination.

Reed spoke today at the kick-off of a new campaign, Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, held at the Phillip Rush Center with the national group Freedom to Marry as well as Georgia Equality. A video of U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) speaking about his support for marriage equality was also screened at the press conference.

Reed was greeted with a standing ovation and loud applause when he stood to speak, a large banner proclaiming “Southerners for the Freedom to Marry” hanging from the wall behind him.

He acknowledged Phillip Rush, who the venue is named after, saying it was with Rush that he had one of his most important conversations with LGBT people before his first run for mayor in 2009. “This is an important community space. It is fitting we are here today for this significant step forward on the conversation about marriage equality,” Reed said.

“I’m prepared to wear as many hats as it takes to take end marriage discrimination in all levels of government and particularly in Georgia,” he said to loud applause and cheers from the some 100 people attending including state Senate candidate Kyle Williams, Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood and Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts.

Reed said he talked to several members of the legislature over the weekend and all were willing to listen and meet with him to discuss such a bill that would mandate the state recognize the legal marriage of gay couples who married in other states but make Georgia their home.

This  bill would be a first step toward full marriage equality in Georgia, Reed said.

“As a longtime supporter of equality for gay, lesbian and transgender and questioning individuals, I believe that denying loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry is harmful to families, hurtful to our communities, it weakens our economy and does not fulfill the Golden Rule of treating our neighbors the way we would want to be treated,” Reed said.

“No gay person should be prevented from marrying the people they love in the states they call home,” he added. “Some patience will be required, but not forever. Removing discrimination from our constitution needs to be done, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but right now.”

Southerners for the Freedom to Marry is a $1 million multi-state initiative to bring the South into the discussion of the national discussion on marriage equality, said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. The money raised from private donations will go to field organizing, social media campaigns and possibly paid advertising, he said.

“Across the South, hundreds of thousands of couples have fallen in love, have made a commitment for life, and deserve commitment under the law — and that commitment is called marriage,” Wolfson said at the press conference. “These couples are caring, building lives together and a home together, raising their children, worrying about their aging parents and enriching their communities — it is for those couples that we are here.”

In the U.S., 40 percent of residents live in states where same-sex marriage is legal — up from zero percent just a decade ago, Wolfson said. And national polls show 55 percent of Americans support marriage equality. It’s time to bring the momentum to the South with “patience and perseverance and persistence,” he added.

Reed is an honorary co-chair of the campaign along with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta). Other honorary co-chairs are:

• Alabama: State Representative Patricia Todd (D)
• Arkansas: TV producers Harry Thomason & Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan (D)
• Florida: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
• Mississippi: Lance Bass, musician and author
• North Carolina: Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt (D)
• South Carolina: Rep. James Clyburn (D)
• Texas: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D); Mark McKinnon, Chief media advisor to President George W. Bush
• Virginia: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D)

There are an estimated 21,000 same-sex couples in Georgia.

“While support for the freedom to marry in Georgia has lagged behind the rest of the country, we do know that support has grown dramatically in the past few years. We also know that Georgians as a whole overwhelming support other core issues such as nondiscrimination policies. Working with Freedom to Marry, we will be able to share our stories and change even more hearts and minds,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, in a statement.

Georgia Equality has its own $10 million campaign, also working with Freedom to Marry, called “Why Marriage Matters Georgia.” This campaign hopes to raise the $10 million over the next five years to use as way to educate the public about marriage equality.

While many plaintiffs have filed lawsuits in such as southern states Virginia and Kentucky to have their legal marriages recognized in their home states where same-sex marriage is prohibited, Georgia is taking a conservative approach based on a 2004 ruling in the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that upheld a law prohibiting a Florida gay couple from adopting.

Linda Ellis, executive director of the Health Initiative, and her partner, Rev. Lesley Brogan, along with their two sons, John Brogan and Sam, spoke at Monday’s press conference and said they want to be an “old married couple” living in Georgia — and while their sons may consider them that already, the truth is they are not.

The two met in 1988 and had a commitment service in 1991. At that service, they asked family and friends to be their to witness their love for each other as well as hold them accountable for the promises they were making to keep forever, Ellis said.

“And for us, forever is Georgia. It is home,” Ellis said. “It’s time for marriage for all Georgians.”

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