Mary Norwood, a leading contender in a gay-friendly field to become Atlanta’s next mayor, received a contribution from a former Georgia attorney general who took his fight against gay civil rights to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The $250 donation from Michael J. Bowers (photo right), the state attorney general from 1981 to 1997, came Sept. 17 and was disclosed among hundreds of other contributions in Norwood’s most recent campaign disclosure report filed Oct. 7.
The donation comes as Norwood plans to join other mayoral candidates, including Lisa Borders, Kyle Keyser and Kasim Reed, in the annual Pride parade on Sunday. It also surfaces as Norwood, who leads the race with 45 percent, deflects aggressive attacks from Borders, Reed and the state Democratic Party for her Republican past. Bowers is a Republican.
Norwood’s campaign manager, Roman Levit, said Friday that the donation from Bowers came after he attended a campaign fundraising event. But he added that LGBT voters should focus on Norwood’s full support of gay issues.
“People give money to all sorts of candidates for all sorts of reasons that go beyond one particular item on their agenda,” Levit said. “She supports full equal rights for the LGBT community. Mary supports marriage equality and she is one of two candidates that does. One of her family members is gay as well.”
Norwood and Borders support same-sex marriage, while Reed supports civil unions. All three candidates take nearly identical stands on other LGBT issues. Norwood pledged in an August interview with Southern Voice that as mayor, she would have a senior adviser on LGBT issues. She also spoke out about the Atlanta Police Department’s Sept. 10 raid at the Eagle, though her statement came after ones from the other candidates and she did not call for an investigation into allegations of mistreatment, as did the others.
Despite Norwood’s gay-friendly record on LGBT issues, a donation from Bowers concerns Jeff Graham, executive director of the statewide gay rights group Georgia Equality. He called on Norwood’s campaign to distance itself from Bowers and explain what, if any, role he has in the campaign.
“It gives me cause and concerns me to find out that Michael Bowers is one of her supporters,” Graham (photo right) says. “Michael Bowers, of course, is someone who throughout his career took every opportunity he could to block the advancement of LGBT rights. The reason that we were criminalized through the entire country was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick. I do think her campaign needs to explain exactly what her relationship with Mike Bowers is.”
Bowers ‘one donor out of 5,000’
In the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bowers successfully defended Georgia’s anti-sodomy law against a challenge by Michael Hardwick, a gay Atlanta man arrested for engaging in consensual oral sex with another man. The 5-4 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick upheld the constitutionality of the state’s sodomy law that criminalized oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults. It stood for 17 years, until the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Bowers in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas. The Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state sodomy law in 1998.
Bowers also publicly opposed the City of Atlanta’s efforts to offer domestic partner benefits. In 1991, Bowers rescinded an offer to a lesbian attorney hired to work in the attorney general’s office and engaged in a legal battle that he eventually won. In 1998, Bowers’ campaign for governor fell apart when he admitted to a long-term extramarital affair.
Bowers, now an attorney with Balch & Bingham, was not available for comment Friday. But his assistant confirmed the donation came from the former attorney general. The Norwood campaign also confirmed that the donation was from Bowers.
Levit says Bowers is not an adviser to the campaign and would have no role in a Norwood administration. But he stopped short of saying the campaign would return the donation.
“Everybody working on the campaign now that is an adviser, all of our consultants, are all Democrats, including myself. I’m the campaign manager and I have never spoken to the man. He is one donor out of 5,000,” Levit says. “When people give to Mary Norwood, they don’t expect anything in return. She has made her views extraordinarily clear, especially to the LGBT community. She has strong supporters in the LGBT community.”
“Norwood should distance herself from Michael Bowers and the legacy of intolerance and hate that he represents,” Graham says.