Mayor Kasim Reed, stubbornly refusing to back gay marriage despite a long record of supporting other LGBT issues, announced on Tuesday that he’s changed course.
“Today marks an important day as I announce my support for marriage equality,” Reed says in a press release.
The announcement marks a striking change of position for the mayor, who only a week ago offered a terse statement when the Atlanta City Council voted 11-2 to approve a resolution backing gay marriage. In Tuesday’s statement, Reed says he’s signed that resolution and backs gay marriage after “a good bit of reflection.”
“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,” Reed says in the statement.
City Council member Alex Wan, who sponsored the marriage resolution, praised the mayor on Tuesday.
So proud of our Mayor. It may have taken some time, but in the end, his reaching the right conclusion is what we celebrate today. Thank you to everyone - including my colleagues on Council - for your hard work on this issue!
Reed’s backing of gay marriage cements long-running support of LGBT issues that date to his time in the Georgia General Assembly. The switch also comes as Reed prepares to run next year for a second term as Atlanta’s chief executive.
Reed’s support for gay marriage came with no advance notice, though the lengthy statement indicates that the announcement has been in the works for days. It includes statements of support from a lesbian Atlanta attorney as well as key figures in the national LGBT equality movement.
The mayor’s reluctance to endorse gay marriage has undercut his support among gay residents in the city and possibly a plum speaking role at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year in Charlotte. It also spawned a Facebook page by local activists hoping to sway the mayor’s position.
Reed’s lack of support for gay marriage became a prominent issue in the 2009 mayoral election as he battled former Atlanta City Council member Mary Norwood in a run-off. Both enjoyed LGBT support, though Norwood backed gay marriage. After Reed took office in 2010, he called the city’s LGBT residents “full partners” despite stopping short of supporting marriage equality.
His reluctance to back gay marriage again gained noticed when President Obama announced his support for marriage equality in May. And if the Democratic Party of Georgia and Civil Rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery could did it, why couldn’t Reed end his gay marriage cowardice, we wondered in May.
The position also put Reed at odds with other big city mayors, who formed Mayors for the Freedom to Marry in January. On Tuesday, Reed indicated that he support the group’s efforts.
The full statement from Reed’s office:
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.”