One month has now passed since President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage.
In doing so, Obama delighted the LGBT community and shook cultural conservatives in the GOP out of their post-primary stupor. All predictable – and perhaps even intentional.
But collateral damage has resulted, too. The president’s evolution on a central tenet of gay rights has condemned Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, one of his strongest supporters, to an interesting re-election bid in 2013.
One day after Obama’s announcement, the mayor – in a written statement – declared his respect for the president decision, reviewed his past support for gay and lesbian causes, and announced that he was “still wrestling with my own personal beliefs on the issue of marriage.”
Reed hasn’t publicly addressed the matter since. This despite a good deal of prodding, including a Facebook page with the title “Mayor Reed, It’s Time to ‘Evolve’ on Marriage Equality,” which now has 4,250 members. More on this later.
Nor could the mayor of Atlanta – though he is perhaps its best hope in the immediate future – find any solace in the Georgia Democratic party. “It’s simply wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, from marrying,” declared state Chairman Michael Berlon.
Though Reed himself may not want to draw attention to his silence on same-sex marriage, one reason comes immediately to mind. The mayor of Atlanta has become a prominent surrogate for Obama – and it does not do to advertise one’s differences with the candidate one is boosting. Ask Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker.
Obama has made his play when it comes to gay marriage, and it has become Reed’s job not to get in the way.
Longer term, anyone who has watched Reed’s rise – from the state House to the Senate to the mayor’s office – can see that the man has at least one statewide race in him. Perhaps for governor, perhaps for U.S. Senate.
Minds are quickly changing on gay marriage. Obama’s endorsement has changed even more. But it may take some time for the president’s influence to filter into certain areas of south or north Georgia.
In the meantime, Reed will seek re-election next year as mayor of a city where victory lies in striking a balance between a sometimes culturally conservative African-American base and an increasingly powerful gay community.
“You can count on LGBT voters not only to vote, but also to actively support candidates for all levels of office,” said Atlanta political strategist Beth Schapiro, who estimates that 15 percent of the city’s voters are lesbian, gay, transgendered or bisexual. And Obama’s endorsement has raised expectations.
“I think [marriage equality] poses a challenge for the mayor, because it’s not going to go away. His overall record on LGBT rights is very good, but marriage has become a defining issue for many,” she said. “This is a major test for his considerable political skills.”
Which brings us to that Facebook page, started by high school teacher Charlie Stadtlander. In the 2009 race for mayor, Stadtlander was a supporter of Reed’s top rival, Mary Norwood – who lost a runoff by only 715 votes.
Stadtlander said he supported Norwood solely because of her endorsement of gay marriage. Reed, then and now, supported civil unions.
Stadtlander is even more impatient now. “I know that the mayor is in the minority of elected officials in Atlanta. I can’t think of one Democratic elected official in Atlanta that has this position,” Stadtlander said. “This is an anti-gay position in 2012.”
He said he would seek a meeting with the mayor this week. If unsatisfied, Stadtlander intends to organize a protest at City Hall.
Stadtlander believes Reed’s opposition to marriage equality could encourage a formidable opponent. But such a candidate would have to attempt – like Norwood and former Atlanta city council president Lisa Borders three years ago – to unite Republican Buckhead with a strong inclination toward gay rights. And that combination might be harder to glue together in 2013.
Not everyone is attempting to box in the mayor of Atlanta. “We certainly are hopeful that Mayor Reed will come around, that he’ll realize that this is about a civil marriage license, not a religious ceremony,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, the most influential gay rights organization in the state.
That said, Graham added, Reed’s evolution “isn’t an issue that we’re actively working on.”
Given that the state Capitol is in the hands of Republicans, Reed’s support for same-sex marriage “would be symbolic at best,” he said.
Georgia Equality intends to focus on more achievable goals – such as legislation to prevent job discrimination, bullying in schools, or funding for HIV medication. All of which will require support from a broad coalition, in the Capitol and elsewhere.
Attitudes are changing, even in Georgia, Graham said. But for the time being, “marriage equality is not an issue that we’re going to hold candidates to,” he said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider