Mayor Kasim Reed helped kick off a $1 million national campaign to bring same-sex marriage to Georgia and other Southern states on Monday, urging patience among gay couples and calling on state lawmakers to recognize gay marriages performed out of state.

"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 as we want to be treated," Reed said during a press conference Monday at the Rush Center.

The mayor stood arm-in-arm with Atlanta activists and Georgia Equality, gay couples and organizers from Freedom to Marry to launch Southerners for the Freedom to Marry. More than a dozen organizations are behind the effort, which will include a $1 million campaign across several states to build support for gay marriage.

Reed, one of six bipartisan co-chairs of Freedom to Marry, says he'll help bring a discussion of marriage equality to the community, churches and around dinner tables. He says his struggle to support gay marriage, which culminated with him publicly backing it in December 2012, will help him talk to state lawmakers and others across the state who don't yet accept it.

Reed says that the first step to rolling back Georgia's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which he voted against as a state senator in 2004, is pressuring lawmakers to pass a law requiring the state to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other places.

But even that, Reed cautioned, will take time.

"I also understand that some patience will be required. But patience should not mean forever. We need to be about the business of removing discrimination from Georgia's Constitution, which must be done not yesterday, not tomorrow but right away. We've got to get at it," Reed said.

Southerners for the Freedom to Marry launched in partnership with Georgia Equality and statewide LGBT groups in several states. It also includes two co-chairs in Georgia – Reed and Rep. John Lewis – and 11 others across eight other states:

• Alabama: State Rep. Patricia Todd
• Arkansas: TV producers Harry Thomason & Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan
• Florida: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
• Georgia: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Rep. John Lewis
• Mississippi: Lance Bass, musician and author
• North Carolina: Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt
• South Carolina: Rep. James Clyburn
• Texas: Rep. Joaquin Castro; Mark McKinnon, chief media advisor to President George W. Bush
• Virginia: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D)
Reed said the 21,000 gay couples across Georgia deserve better.

"I am prepared to wear as many hats as it takes to end marriage discrimination at all levels of government, particularly in Georgia," Reed said.

The public event on Monday included personal and political touches.

"All of it starts with a bill. I am going to use my office to engage members of the General Assembly to recognize marriages from other states and to begin the long walk towards removing the Constitutional impediments," Reed said.

"We stand with you and thousands of other gay and lesbian couples across the state of Georgia that deserve the freedom to marry," said Linda Ellis, executive director of the Health Initiative. "It is time. It is time for marriage for all Georgians." Ellis was joined at the press conference by her wife, Lesley Brogan, and their two sons.

"There is irrefutable momentum now in the United States for ending the discrimination that has excluded committed and loving gay couples from marriage for far too long," Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said.

Gay married couple Charles Bjorkland and Sted Mays were among the same-sex couples attending the event.

“We know that there are over 21,000 same sex couples living in Georgia today and that nearly 20 percent of them are raising children," Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said in a prepared statement ahead of the press conference. "Gay and lesbian couples share the same values as other couples – like the importance of family, helping out our neighbors, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment. 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.”

Emory theology professor Don Saliers said he wants to offer the campaign his theological insight. His lesbian daughter (you know, the singer who lives in Atlanta) had to travel to New York City to get married.

 
U.S. Rep. John Lewis didn't attent Monday's press conference, but supported the campaign in a video message.