US: Mayor of Atlanta says ‘gay couples deserve the same protection’ as straight ones

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After coming out in support of equal marriage on Tuesday, the Mayor of Atlanta has reiterated his support, and given his reasons for changing his stance, saying that “gay and lesbian couples deserve the same protection” as straight couples.

Speaking to NBC News, the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, who yesterday signed a resolution by Atlanta City Council stating that gay couples should have equal marriage rights, outlined his personal journey towards his current stance, supporting marriage equality.

When asked whether he had his hand forced by the Atlanta City Council, which just passed a resolution saying that gay and lesbian residents should have the right to equal marriage, he said:

“No, not at all. I’ve been a long standing ally of the LGBT community. I served as the first house sponsor for the first hate crimes bill that passed in the state of Georgia, and in 2004, I voted against the ban on gay marriage.

“I was quite comfortable with civil unions and just went through my own process along with close friends of mine, one of whom has been in a thirty year relationship and is married, a friend of over fourteen years.

“There is a difference that is meaningful between civil unions, and marriage, and that’s why I made the decision that I did, but I’m not new to supporting LGBT rights and interests.

When asked how he came to evolve on the issue of marriage equality, Mayor Reed said:

“I think it’s listening to people who I know and care about. That’s how authentic and geniune change occurs. I happen to have a friend of mine, who I’ve known since I started practicing law in 1995, I also know her wife, and they are a wonderful couple. They invited me to their wedding in New York. I was conflicted, and I did not go because I would’ve felt like a hypocrite.”

He said that he spoke to his chief of staff, who was devoutly religious, and his father, and his stance on the issue began to change from there. He continued:

“If you really believe in equal protection, then gay and lesbian couples deserve the same protection under the constituon as I do or you do.”

When asked about Amendment 1, which passed in 2004, forbidding the state to allow marriage equality to same-sex couples, the Mayor said: “It will take time, but I believe this is the first step.”

The News Councilman Alex Wan, who helped to author the resolution which Mayor Reed signed on Tuesday, made a personal statement which was read out on the news broadcast. He said:

“To have the elected leadership of Atlanta – both the City Council and the Mayor – take such a bold position in support of marriage equality, is the strongest statement a city can make, on this issue.

Mayor Reed agreed to sign the resolution on Tuesday, and said the occasion “marks an important day.” He was applauded by marriage equality advocates, as he is one of the highest-profile politicians supporting equal marriage in Georgia politics

The mayor is up for re-election in 2013, which is a city with a majority black population, as well as a visible gay community .

Black voters have historically against marriage equality, but there have been recent signs to suggest that those opinions are shifting.