A question about gay marriage sparked the biggest audience reaction May 21 when gay political groups reached across the partisan aisle to evaluate the field of candidates vying to be Atlanta’s next mayor.
Five mayoral candidates attended the forum hosted by the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats and Georgia Log Cabin Republicans at Amsterdam Cafe.
Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders, Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood, state Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta), former Atlanta finance manager Glenn Thomas, and attorney Jesse Spikes appeared at the event. Thomas left before the forum began, while Norwood left after making an opening comment. Spikes, Reed and Borders answered questions from the crowd of some 200 people.
The size of the crowd surprised organizers, who often had to call for quiet after the hour-long meet and greet ended and the more formal forum began. Throughout the evening, attendees became more vocal in their support and jeers of the candidates.
Most of the forum focused on general city issues such as Atlanta’s budget shortfall, city services, zoning and water. Borders and Reed both referenced their past records of working with gay groups on a variety of issues, while Norwood and Spikes spoke about their vision for the city.
Roughly halfway through the question-and-answer format, Kyle Bailey, director of chapter and national development for the Stonewall Democrats, asked the candidates to state their beliefs on allowing same-sex couples to marry in a one-word answer.
Spikes and Borders both said they support same-sex marriage, while Reed said “civil unions.” His answer sparked a series of boos and shouts from the audience.
Reed’s staff sought out Southern Voice to clarify his position and he gave an extended interview on the subject the following day.
“Where I am is that like anyone else I have my own personal faith, and I’m working through issues about marriage equality in my own private way, as my own private person,” Reed said. “I have believed, as I have for a long time, in civil unions and being forward leaning toward the LGBT community before really anyone ever noticed.”
Reed said that he has let Georgia Equality know since he first ran for office in 1998 that he supported civil unions over marriage, and has been endorsed by the state’s largest gay political group several times.
“If you talk to people at the Georgia Legislature no one has ever had to persuade me to take a particular position with regard to GLBT issues. No one ever had to get me in a back room and threaten me and say if you don’t do this, if you don’t do that this will happen,” he said. “I hope that will matter.”
Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, said Reed has had a strong record on GLBT issues, and that the forum will not weigh into the organization’s endorsement process.
Norwood backs marriage
After Southern Voice contacted Norwood to seek her stand on gay marriage, she released a statement via e-mail saying she supports allowing gay couples to marry, but churches should not be required to perform the unions.
“Marriages make our community stronger,” Norwood wrote. “Gays and lesbians are our neighbors, friends, and families, our police officers and our firefighters, and in these tough times all families need the added peace of mind that marriage — and only marriage — can bring.”
Borders, who said she supported full marriage equality, touted her involvement in past gay events, and her role in brokering the compromise to allow the Atlanta Pride Festival back into Piedmont Park on the Halloween weekend.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with you at every HRC dinner, every Pride Festival,” Borders said. “I was instrumental in bring Pride back to Piedmont Park. I’m working with my good friend [Dr.] Jason Schneider and Jeff Graham as we look to expand patient rights at Grady Hospital to include the LGBT concern about patient rights,” Borders said.
Spikes admitted being at his first gay event and largely stuck to city issues such as trash collection and trimming the city’s bureaucracy. He did say he wants to open up city government to make sure that all are represented.
“I want all of the best ideas, all of the best people,” he said.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is forbidden by term limits from seeking re-election. The Atlanta mayoral election is non-partisan. It takes place on Nov. 3.
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This is all great, but the mayor doesn't decide if gay people can marry, so who cares? I am way more interested in seeing the break-ins and robberies stop. After all, if I wanted to feel unsafe in my home, or while walking through the park, I would move to the suburbs.