“Reed’s failure to support full marriage equality is disappointing… but far more disappointing ... have been the efforts by many within our community to portray Reed as an obstacle to gay equality.”
It’s ironic that marriage equality has become such a defining factor for some gay voters in the Atlanta mayoral run-off, considering that so many in our community have displayed a lack of fidelity that would doom any marriage. Whether the alliance is romantic or political, there are disagreements within any union;but one argument should not be an excuse to abandon a partner who has supported us for years in favor of some flashy new date whose best argument is offering hallow support for an issue over which she has no control.
Kasim Reed’s failure to support full marriage equality is disappointing, and his reliance on his faith to set policy should be troubling to anyone who prefers ration over emotion in government affairs, and anyone who supports the separation of church and state.
But far more disappointing than Reed’s shortcomings have been the efforts by many within our community —from neophyte bulldogs like Charlie Stadtlander, to gay rights veterans whom I deeply admire such as Ken Britt — to portray Reed as an obstacle to gay equality. Along with people like state Sens. Vincent Fort and Nan Orrock, and openly gay state Rep. Karla Drenner, Reed has been part of a core group of progressives at the Gold Dome that have led the case for gay rights any time an issue came before the General Assembly.
And, yes, even with marriage.
Reed was one of the legislative floor leaders who helped shepherd Georgia’s hate crimes law through the General Assembly over the course of two years. Reed’s original proposal that passed the state Senate enumerated protected categories such as race, religion, sexual orientation and several others; however, once the legislation moved to the state House, it became clear that any bill including sexual orientation would be voted down by conservative members.
In order to pass the bill, the most obvious thing to do would have been to remove sexual orientation. But Reed and his co-sponsors stood strong: the hate crimes bill was a gay bill, and they were not about to throw gay people under the bus simply to achieve a legislative victory.
Instead of removing only sexual orientation, the authors of the bill removed ALL protected categories and re-wrote the bill so that it created stiffer penalties for crimes “motivated by bias and prejudice.” This switch in language is ultimately what caused the hate crimes law to be ruled “unconstitutionally vague” by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004; but in real time, the passage of the hate crimes law was a powerful victory for the gay community, made possible by the loyalty and political shrewdness of people like Kasim Reed.
During the historic debate over Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004, Reed again lent his political muscle to our cause by giving an impassioned speech against the amendment from the Senate floor; and even after the measure passed the Senate, Reed remained engaged in the intense, month-long fight behind the scenes, particularly by lobbying other African-American legislators to vote against the amendment. And lest anyone forget, 75 percent of African-American Georgia voters supported the gay marriage ban in 2004, so it took remarkable courage and leadership for Reed and other black legislators to lead the fight against what they considered a bigoted attack.
After the Georgia Supreme Court nullified the state’s hate crimes law, Reed was back at the Capitol rightly blaming Republicans for weakening the original bill, and pledging to work toward passing a new hate crimes law that was explicitly gay- and trans-inclusive.
And now that Reed is running for mayor of Atlanta, many gay voters are returning his loyalty by saying: Thanks, but it wasn’t enough. Reed’s decade of vigorous support on our behalf is somehow deemed insufficient, and unbelievably, inferior to to the support Mary Norwood has offered during that same time.
Let’s be real: Mary Norwood has never done jack for the gay community while serving as a citywide council member for the last eight years. She was AWOL during the marriage fight, AWOL during the Druid Hills fiasco, reflexively protective of the Atlanta Police Department in the early hours after the Eagle raid and was by far the biggest supporter of the culture-killing rollback in bar hours in 2003. Yet somehow, in a race against a proven gay rights ally, Norwood has become the savior of gay voters simply because she offers generic support in a political fight in which she will never engage.
How bamboozled can you get?
That same naivete of gay political activists is evidenced by their reaction to Kasim Reed’s position of supporting civil unions instead of full marriage equality. Civil Unions are a shameful compromise when it comes to gay relationships, and it’s baffling that someone as insightful and progressive as Kasim Reed doesn’t see that. However, I believe that it’s so important to remember that the person Reed and Norwood are trying to replace —Shirley Franklin —never faced a question regarding her position on gay marriage as a candidate because most Americans were unfamiliar with the concept of gay marriage as late as 2002.
And yet, as gay Atlanta voters, we seem to expect everyone to reconcile an issue that involves God, love, the family, thousands of years of history and other profound factors in less than one electoral cycle. Kasim Reed has not completed his journey of understanding in the brief window of time alloted, and so we are saying he must be rebuked and abandoned.
Such short-sighted thinking is an awful deterrent to forming political alliances: Agree with us on EVERY issue IMMEDIATELY, or all bets are off.
Time and again, the gay rights movement asks for people to stand by our side as we fight for equality. And time and again, we return such support with fickleness and neediness. It’s time for us to be the allies that we ask others to be. It’s time to elect Kasim Reed the next mayor of Atlanta.
Atlanta-based writer Ryan Lee is the former editor of David Atlanta magazine and senior reporter for Southern Voice.