Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced his support of gay marriage Tuesday, reversing a position from his first mayoral campaign.
Reed said he went through considerable personal reflection on the issue and changed his mind after discussions with Atlanta’s lesbian and gay communities, as well as his own father and chief of staff.
“This seems to me to be a natural place to be,” Reed said. “Candidly, I didn’t feel any pressure. … If I wanted to play politics, I would have done it when I was in third place in the mayoral election [in 2009] and in front of the gay and lesbian community saying I was not supportive of marriage equality. … As a result of that, I suffered great political harm.”
He said his longtime friendship with attorney Lee Schreter, who married her partner in New York last year, also played a role.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it would take up cases involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act and a California law that bans same-sex marriage.
Reed affirmed his support Tuesday by signing a City Council resolution backing gay marriage. The resolution was drawn up by councilman Alex Wan, who is openly gay, and passed by council members a week ago.
“Atlanta, being as big a city as it is, a city in a very conservative state … I wanted our position to be in the conversation” as the Supreme Court takes up the issue, Wan said Tuesday.
Though same-sex marriage is banned in Georgia, the City of Atlanta extends benefits to domestic partners.
Reed is running for re-election next year. He is eyed as a potential statewide candidate for the Democrats, but Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint said this announcement makes it harder for Reed to win a statewide race right now.
“I think it’s for the long term,” Swint said. “One thing I would take from it is he’s not interested in running for statewide office in Georgia anytime soon, but he’s looking to the future.”
A statewide poll by Channel 2 Action News in May showed 59.4 percent of respondents against changing Georgia law to allow same-sex marriage, with 27 percent in favor. In 2004, 76 percent of Georgians backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
But Atlanta has one of the highest populations of gays and lesbians per capita in the nation.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender advocacy group, said Tuesday’s announcement was an important “symbolic gesture.”
“The only thing that gives us any hope there will be local change is when public figures come out and support our right to marry the person we love,” he said.
In May, President Barack Obama announced that he had “evolved” on the issue and had become supportive of same-sex marriage. At the time, Reed said he was “still wrestling with my own personal beliefs.”
In November, Washington state, Maine and Maryland became the first three states to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot box. In all, nine states and the District of Columbia allow it.
Reed’s announcement makes him one of the most high-profile political figures in the state to publicly back gay marriage. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat, has also expressed support for same-sex marriage, as far back as 2003.
Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this story