‘I did it in my own time and way’

GA Voice - - News -

In 2009, Reed won a tough run-off elec­tion against Mary Nor­wood, an open sup­porter of gay mar­riage, but he lost District 6, home to the city’s gayest neigh­bor­hoods, by a wide mar­gin.

Reed dis­misses ac­cu­sa­tions he is do­ing this for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. He said by sup­port­ing mar­riage equal­ity, he is ac­tu­ally hurt­ing his po­lit­i­cal chances be­cause the ma­jor­ity of At­lantans don’t sup­port it and most cer­tainly the ma­jor­ity of con­ser­va­tive Ge­or­gians don’t sup­port it.

Reed said he has re­ceived many calls from re­li­gious peo­ple who said they are dis­ap­pointed with his de­ci­sion.

But Reed points to his long his­tory of sup­port­ing LGBT rights when he was a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a state se­na­tor, in­clud­ing spon­sor­ing a hate crimes bill (which was later struck down by the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court) and vot­ing against the 2004 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to ban gay mar­riage.

Reed con­tin­ues to feel he has been treated un­fairly, even vi­ciously, by the gay press dur­ing his en­tire term as mayor.

“I’d like some­one to show me a mayor who has done more than me,” he said. “The pol­i­tics around this de­ci­sion [to sup­port mar­riage equal­ity] are not good for me.”

Andra Gille­spie is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Emory Univer­sity and au­thor of “The New Black Politi­cian: Cory Booker, Ne­wark, and Post-Racial Amer­ica.”

Gille­spie said she takes Reed at his word this was a per­sonal de­ci­sion, but in a po­lit­i­cal con­text, there is no deny­ing that Amer­i­cans are in­creas­ingly in fa­vor of gay mar­riage, and the mayor does not face ma­jor pub­lic vil­i­fica- tion over his stand.

“In the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity there wasn’t a back­lash against Pres­i­dent Barack Obama,” she said. “It is safer to do now than a year ago, than five years ago.”

Praise for Reed’s stand

Since Reed’s an­nounce­ment Dec. 11, he has re­ceived much praise — from At­lanta’s own LGBT com­mu­nity as well as na­tion­ally — for sup­port­ing same-sex mar­riage.

Mayor Cory Booker of Ne­wark, a ris­ing star in the Demo­cratic Party like Reed, con­grat­u­lated Reed via Twit­ter on Dec. 12.

Gille­spie said Reed, 43, is a young man and has a long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer ahead.

“Suf­fice to say he is go­ing to have pub­lic pro­file for decades. He does have a na­tional role as a Demo­crat sur­ro­gate and he will be in that role ei­ther in an elected or non-elected ca­pac­ity,” she said.

“By stat­ing his sup­port of [gay mar­riage] he is sig­nal­ing to ev­ery­one that this is some­thing that is go­ing to be in his port­fo­lio,” she added.

Schreter said she knows Reed didn’t come out in sup­port of mar­riage equal­ity for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

“I think that’s un­fair to say. I think peo­ple can evolve,” she said. “Look at the pres­i­dent and the en­tire Amer­i­can pub­lic.”

Civil unions not enough

Reed said it would be disin­gen­u­ous to not ac­knowl­edge Pres­i­dent Obama’s role in mak­ing the en­vi­ron­ment more wel­com­ing to other elected of­fi­cials to state pub­licly they sup­port mar­riage equal­ity.

He cred­ited At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity — in­clud­ing a pe­ti­tion of more than 5,000 sig­na­tures ask­ing him to sup­port mar­riage equal­ity, his friend­ship with peo­ple such as Harry Knox and also Phillip Rush, an early sup­porter of Reed’s who died in 2009 — for keep­ing his mind open to change.

In the end, though, it was Schreter who was the key.

“Even af­ter 30 years, be­ing able to say we were mar­ried was life-chang­ing,” Schreter said tear­fully.

“I still get emo­tional. It’s just so im­por­tant and that is what I con­veyed to the mayor. I know it is his be­lief that this is a civil rights strug­gle and he wants all peo­ple treated fairly and equally un­der the law,” she added. “He came to un­der­stand over time that a civil union is not equiv­a­lent to be able to say you’re mar­ried.”

The mayor won’t say what, if any, po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions he has other than seek­ing to be re­elected as At­lanta’s mayor next year. But he said that he in­tends to try to change the con­ver­sa­tion in Ge­or­gia on the is­sue of gay mar­riage.

“I think that it is very im­por­tant that peo­ple who evolve share how they got there in their think­ing,” he said. “And I think be­cause I am one of high­est pro­file Democrats in the state of Ge­or­gia and I gov­ern the largest city in the state of Ge­or­gia, my po­si­tion mat­ters as we change the con­ver­sa­tions and change peo­ple’s minds.”

And while some may ar­gue the mayor did not evolve fast enough, Reed said he can take the heat that comes with the job.

“I have a great deal of peace in my spirit ... I did it in my own time and way,” he said.

At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed cred­its Lee Schreter (right) and her wife, De Linda Bun­nell, with help­ing change his mind on mar­riage equal­ity. (Reed photo by Dyana Bagby; Schreter courtesy photo)

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