The elected official who helped embarrass Cobb County over gay issues two decades ago now says that was a mistake, a change of heart timed with his campaign to return to office.
Bill Byrne faces Bob Weatherford in a GOP runoff on Tuesday and as the pair battle to replace retiring District 1 Commissioner Helen Goreham, LGBT issues surfaced in a Sunday debate. Weatherford blasted Byrne over his support for an ant-gay resolution the Cobb County Commission passed in 1993 ahead of the Olympics. Byrne, the commission chair at the time, backpedaled on Sunday from a vote he still publicly supported as recently as two years ago.
“Well, I regret that that happened, yes,” Byrne said. “That was brought forward … by a district commissioner by the name of Gordon Wysong. He brought it forward with the majority of the Board of Commissioners supporting that. I could not — as much as I tried — (keep) it off of the agenda. When that came forward, it passed the Board of Commissioners. It was a resolution, not a policy statement.”
Yet Byrne voted for the resolution – which said the “gay lifestyle” was “incompatible with the standards to which the community subscribes” – and an earlier effort to ban funding to arts groups that support the “gay lifestyle.” The moves led LGBT activists to successfully push for Cobb to lose any chance of hosting events during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Byrne, who has a lesbian daughter, still wasn't bothered by his votes in 2012 when he made a run to return to the Commission.
Still, Byrne voted for the resolution. He told the MDJ two years ago, the alternative was expressing support for the gay rights agenda.
“When given that as the question, then the answer to me is pretty clear. On that basis, I voted for the resolution,” he said in 2012.
Byrne lost that effort and this time around, he's expressing regret for his actions two decades ago.
When asked whether he would vote for the resolution today, Byrne said he would not, saying it was a “nasty point in time” for those involved and citing the resulting strained relationship with his openly gay daughter.
“It was something that was hurtful personally. It hurt my family, and it has followed me for years; to the point that two of you are asking me questions about it for something that happened 22 years ago,” he told a panel of journalists who asked the candidates questions during the debate. “No, I would not support something of that nature today.”
Weatherford relished making an issue of Byrne's anti-gay votes.
“I would never support something like that. I believe that everyone has equal opportunities,” Weatherford said. “I know there are certain rights that everyone’s granted.”
Weatherford also made sure to point out the resolution passed under Byrne’s watch.
“It was under chairman Byrne’s leadership that this occurred,” Weatherford said. “An effective leader, I think, would have somehow or another found a way not to have that harm Cobb County, which in fact it did.”