ATLANTA – Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday he supports gay marriage as a “fundamental right,” taking an emphatic stand on the issue months after President Barack Obama declared that same-sex couples should be allowed to wed.
When Obama came out in support of gay marriage in May, Reed said he was still “wrestling” with the issue even though he supported gay rights overall and previously voiced support for civil unions.
The Atlanta City Council may have finally forced the mayor’s hand. Council members recently passed a resolution stating gay and lesbian citizens should have the right to marry. Reed agreed to sign that resolution Tuesday, saying the occasion “marks an important day.”
“It is well known that I have gone through a good bit of reflection on this issue, but listening to the stories of so many people that I know and care about has strengthened my belief that marriage is a fundamental right for everyone,” Reed said in a statement. “Loving couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the right to marry whomever they want.”
Gay rights advocates praised the mayor, while also noting he remains one of the few high-profile supporters of same-sex marriage in Georgia politics. The state has a constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Reed’s move may have been largely symbolic, but it sends a significant message to the gay community in the city and state.
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand we still have a long way to go here in Georgia,” Graham said. “But having Mayor Reed, having the City Council so solidly behind this, it is a big first step to begin realizing the importance of marriage equality here in Georgia.”
Reed will be up for re-election next year in Atlanta, a majority-black city that also has a visible gay constituency. His spokeswoman did not respond to a request to interview Reed.
While black voters and especially black churches have long opposed gay marriage, there are signs that support for same-sex marriage has risen dramatically among blacks in just the past four years. A Pew Research Center poll in July showed 51 percent of black Americans oppose gay marriage while 40 percent support it. In 2008, only 26 percent favored gay marriage.
Andra Gillespie, a political science professor who specializes in African-American politics at Emory University, noted the NAACP endorsed same-sex marriage as a civil right soon after Obama lent his support. The fact that Obama won re-election after taking a stand may also have given more comfort to black politicians who, like Reed, remained on the fence, Gillespie said.
“Obama making his announcement coupled with the NAACP endorsement suggests African-American politicians have greater cover to be able to come out in favor of gay marriage if they so choose,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said she doubts Reed’s endorsement of same-sex marriage will hurt him in his re-election bid for mayor. Reed has also emerged as a rare rising star among Democrats in a state increasingly dominated by Republicans. Could the issue hurt him if Reed seeks higher office?
If Reed ran for Congress, he’d still have a good shot at a heavily Democratic House seat in metro Atlanta, Gillespie said. If he decided to run statewide, it might be more of a problem.
“If this state is still as Republican as it has been, with him being a Democrat, his party would be the first barrier more so than gay marriage,” Gillespie said.
By RUSS BYNUM and PHILLIP LUCAS
Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga.