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|Atlanta mayor pressed to support gay marriage in wake of Obama’s affirmation|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|May 25, 2012 00:00|
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s relationship with the city’s LGBT community has been a rocky road. The Atlanta Police Department’s botched 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle occurred during Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration, but the long court battle and settlements of nearly $2 million to bar patrons who accused the APD of violating their constitutional rights came under Reed’s watch.
With the Eagle’s battles apparently finally put to rest with the last round of settlements in March, Reed faces a new challenge with LGBT Atlanta voters — support for same-sex marriage.
Reed was the only serious candidate for mayor in 2009 who did not support full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. He stated clearly he believed in civil unions and legal protections for gay couples but has always stopped short of saying he supports gay marriage.
And gay voters noticed. Many made it their litmus test when they supported Mary Norwood over Reed. He won the election by 715 votes, but lost District 6 — home to the city’s highest concentration of gay voters — by a margin of 40 percent.
Now, the stakes are higher for Reed among LGBT voters after President Barack Obama as well as the NAACP came out in support of same-sex marriage. The next Atlanta mayoral election is in 2013.
“I supported Mary Norwood for mayor and her position on marriage equality was a defining factor,” said Charlie Stadtlander, a gay teacher and former Atlanta school board candidate who recently started the Facebook campaign, “Mayor Reed It’s Time to Evolve on Marriage Equality” that now has close to 5,000 members.
“I had no allegiance to either candidate at the time, but she was very comfortable with LGBT equality and marriage and I thought she would make a great mayor,” Stadtlander said.
Stadtlander said he has come to see Reed as a great mayor who has done incredible works for the city and acknowledges his longtime support of LGBT equality. But he wants Reed to take that extra step and support same-sex marriage, especially as the mayor of a city known as a bastion for civil rights.
“He has that constant albatross around his neck,” Stadtlander said. “His longtime support of LGBT issues [as a state senator and representative] is overshadowed by this one particular issue. He could complete his entire career for equality like so many others have.”
On May 9, Pesident Barack Obama told the nation, “it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Stadtlander’s Facebook page popped up later that night and on May 10 Reed issued a statement saying he is still “wrestling” with the idea of acceptance of marriage equality.
“I respect President Obama’s decision to stand in support of marriage equality. I have fought hard for the rights of gays and lesbians my entire political career from protecting adoption rights for gay and lesbian families, to voting against Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as a state senator, to serving as the state house sponsor for the only hate crimes bill ever passed in the state of Georgia,” Reed said.
“While I am still wrestling with my own personal beliefs on the issue of marriage, I deeply appreciate the contributions gays and lesbians make to our city every single day and I remain committed to Atlanta’s vibrant and diverse LGBT community,” he said.
Faith and politics
The Facebook page and Reed’s statement drew coverage from many Atlanta media outlets.
Meanwhile, the national media questioned President Obama’s decision to come out for marriage equality before the November election. There was also much speculation by pundits on whether Obama would lose votes among black voters who attend church every Sunday and hear from the pulpit the evils of homosexuality.
Elder Antonio Jones, a gay pastor of Atlanta’s Unity Fellowship Church, said Reed, like Obama, has to consider black voters who have strong ties to the black church.
“The support from the black church is a real concern for [Reed],” said Jones, who said he has consulted with the mayor and also voted for him in 2009.
“The black churches are considered the gateway into the black community and you have to have that gateway,” he said.
Jones and his church recently became part of a coalition named NoWedge2012.com that will work against efforts by groups such as the National Organization for Marriage to drive a wedge between black voters and Obama because of Obama’s support of gay marriage.
This effort can and will trickle down to local races, Jones said.
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which works on LGBT issues, said it will be Reed’s “personal decision on what side of history he wants to be on.”
But she said it paramount that strong black leaders, such as Reed, show leadership when it comes to showing support LGBT equality, and she hopes his evolution comes soon.
Like Obama, Reed — a member of Cascade United Methodist Church — has said due to his religious beliefs he was resistant to using the word “marriage” for gay couples in committed relationships.
That excuse doesn’t fly, Jones said.
“This is not a matter of you offending your faith,” Jones said. “This is a civil rights issue. Religious convictions have no space in politics. All citizens deserve equal rights.”
Obama turned to educating himself and talking to others to evolve on the issue. Reed can do the same, Jones said.
Jones is convinced the mayor will come around and support full marriage equality, but he has to do carefully because, as a politician, he has to ensure he has constituent support.
“The mayor has always been very cautious for his entire administration. I think before he was mayor he was more aggressive on issue,” Jones said.
“But he can’t continue to be ambivalent. You don’t have any other choice,” he said of the mayor’s decision to support marriage equality. “Wrestling with the issue is not going to cut the mustard.”
Top photo: Atlanta LGBT activists are pushing for Mayor Kasim Reed to support same-sex marriage following, in the footsteps of President Barack Obama and a number of mayors around the country. (Photo by Bo Shell)
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