In January of this year, hundreds of mayors from cities all across the country joined together to sign on to the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a declaration endorsing marriage equality for all of their constituents. Although mayors have no direct governing effect on marriage laws, it was nonetheless a significant symbolic affirmation of the critical role that mayors play in advancing civil rights. Mayors of cities large and small, from Maine to Texas, North Carolina to California, all declared their commitment to helping gay and lesbian citizens achieve equal treatment under the law, proudly proclaiming that all loving couples deserve to express their lifelong commitment through marriage. Although some naysayers contested that it was ineffectual and merely symbolic, the fact is, in the absence of equality, symbols matter.
Notably missing from the list was Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, the gay capital of the South and the city of civil rights. He remains implacable on this issue, and though mayors from both parties across the country continue to join the chorus of support, Reed stubbornly drags his feet.
When pressed for a reason as to why he refuses to join the nonpartisan coalition, Reed, who supports civil unions, finally said he is "still wrestling with my own personal beliefs on the issue of marriage."
Marriage equality is now the Democratic Party's platform: the first president to support marriage equality just won re-election; Maryland, Washington, and Maine became the first states to approve gay marriage by ballot initiative; and Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban it.
In other words, the irreversible momentum of marriage equality in the United States was made official last Election Day. The direction is clear, and history does not look back kindly on politicians who hold out as disfavored minorities seek equality under the law. It's time for Reed's tiresome episode of Lucha Libre to come to an end.
It's fine for someone to have personal or religious objections to same-sex marriage: they need not participate in such ceremonies if their religion forbids it, and they're free to voice their disagreement. But for someone - particularly a politician - to argue that the civil inequality of a disfavored minority must be maintained due to his religious beliefs is ridiculous. Moreover, it cruelly ignores the many religious people who believe in a God that doesn't hate gay marriage. Inequality for gays is not the only religious position - it never was.
Many churches, indeed many Atlanta churches, support same-sex marriage and perform such ceremonies. Sadly, they do so with the knowledge that their own mayor thinks these churches and their beliefs deserve to be disfavored by law, that their beliefs are inferior. They do so under a mayor who does not in any way value such expressions of love, faith, and commitment. Other churches, other beliefs, simply rank higher in Mayor Reed's esteem, and this is expressed in his political position.
Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, a civil rights hero who just handily won re-election, supported gay equality as early as 1996, when he opposed the then-overwhelmingly popular Defense of Marriage Act. "I think as politicians, as elected officials, we should not only follow but we must lead," he told Congress. "Marriage is a basic human right ... Why do you not want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their longings, their aspirations?"
Reed knows that civil unions have been deemed unconstitutional by nearly every court that has considered them. Separate institutions only serve to empower and lend credence to prejudice. His resistance to gay marriage shows how stubbornly he wishes to distinguish himself from President Obama and to keep himself separate from the winning platform of the national Democratic Party. Why? It may help him in some other future contest. Perhaps it will be useful for post-mayoral political ambitions involving redder constituencies.
But it shows a troubling lack of courage and vision, even a disconnect from the diversity of the community he represents, which voted overwhelmingly for the pro-equality Obama. Considering the direction of the rest of the country, he may find himself written down in history as the last mayor who wouldn't support legal equality for all Atlantans.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated.
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