Everyone in Georgia is coming out for gay marriage

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Ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments on gay marriage next month, a chorus of Georgians – from business titans Coke and Delta to Mayor Kasim Reed and three Republicans – is calling for the court to legalize same-sex unions across the country.

Scores of friend-of-the-court briefs were filed this week supporting gay couples in lawsuits in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Supreme Court announced arguments in those cases will be held April 28. The briefs were due on Friday.

Some weren't surprising. Reed, who has forcefully backed marriage equality sine he evolved on the issue, joined with 225 other U.S. mayors in urging the court to strike remaining marriage bans. Three other mayors in Georgia, all in metro Atlanta, signed the brief: East Point Mayor Jannquell Peters, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, Hinesville Mayor James Thomas, Jr.

“Excluding a certain class of people from marriage undermines the dignity and respect that government owes everyone. Gay and lesbian couples live in all of our communities, where they raise children, support each other in sickness and in health, combine assets, buy homes and otherwise engage in all the indicia of marriage. The stability of these family units directly benefits municipalities. Marriage lessens societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, and crime; when it is denied to a discrete group, they – and their children – are more likely to need the social services that municipalities provide.”

Last June, Reed helped the U.S. Conference of Mayors support a resolution calling for an end to gay marriage bans. He’s also a co-chair of Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a grassroots campaign he helped launch with a splash during a February 2014 press conference.

Some were a little surprising. More than 300 veteran Republican lawmakers and political operatives filed their own brief calling on the high court to legalize gay marriage. Supporters from Georgia included Jay Morgan, a longtime GOP consultant and former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. Yes, the same party that says anti-gay things and then lies about them.

“Although amici hold a broad spectrum of socially and politically conservative, moderate, and libertarian views, amici share the view that laws that bar same-sex couples from the institution of civil marriage, with all its attendant profoundly important rights and responsibilities, are inconsistent with the United States Constitution’s dual promises of equal protection and due process.”

That brief by Republicans also includes Jamie Ensley, the gay Atlanta Republican who was recently elected chair of the national Log Cabin Republicans. He's been dipping his toes into Georgia politics again to sometimes mixed reviews from other gay Atlantans. And James Richardson, a Republican consultant who came out as gay to rally for same-sex marriage, also signed onto the brief.

And businesses joined the call for gay marriage, too. Some 379 corporations urged the court to strike down gay marriage bans, including several based in Atlanta. Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Cox Enterprises and First Data Corporation. AT&T also signed the brief; its mobility unit is Atlanta based.

“By not permitting same-sex couples to marry, states impose significant administrative burdens on businesses,” the brief says. “Although amici can, and often do, voluntarily attempt to lessen the financial inequality placed on employees, those workarounds impose additional and unnecessary business expense, while still not fully ameliorating the differential treatment of employees. And the combined burden of administrative costs and tax consequences is significant; the 2015 estimated cost of marriage inequality to the private sector is $1.3 billion.” 

Coke, Delta and Cox all score highly on HRC's Corporate Equality Index, an annual ranking of how companies approach LGBT issues, employees and customers. First Data topped the most recent list, improving its score from a 45 to a perfect 100. Delta CEO Richard Anderson came out strongly against “religious freedom” bills in the Georgia Legislature last year, along with Coke, and Republican lawmakers retaliated against Delta this session.

But with gay marriage likely coming to Georgia this summer, even probate judges in the state – the ones who would issues marriage licenses to gay couples – are getting on board. Now, someone should tell Sam Olens, Alevda King and Dan Cathy that it's time to get on the right side of history. And maybe Republicans in the state legislature.

UPDATE | But wait, there's more. Some 65 faith leaders in Georgia signed onto a brief, according to Georgia Equality. They include Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, pastor and president of Georgia’s NAACP; Rev. CT Vivian, civil rights leader and founder of the CT Vivian Leadership Institute; Bishop Keith Whitmore of Atlanta; David Key, Director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School; and David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. 

“We are thrilled but not surprised at the prominent names representing Georgia today in friend-of-the-court briefs in support of marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in a prepared statement. “Support for the freedom to marry in Georgia now outweighs opposition, and Georgia leaders know that their constituents value fairness and equality. We hope the Supreme Court does the right thing and brings marriage for same-sex couples to Georgia, as well as the rest of the country, as soon as possible.

Freedom to Marry has a rundown of all of the briefs.



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