The United States may still be fiercely divided over same-sex marriage in some regions, but over the past year -- among many other signals that the country is shifting on gay rights -- the number of mayors who have pledged support for legalizing same-sex marriage has quietly grown from 80 to nearly 300.
On Friday, Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a group launched by Freedom To Marry, the Washington, D.C.-based organization leading the charge to legalize same-sex marriage, will celebrate its one year anniversary. Since launching last January with 80 mayors, the group now has 291 members from 32 states.
And while few gay rights advocates think it likely that any other states in the South will legalize same-sex marriage anytime soon, mayors from some of the most staunchly conservative states have signed a pledge that they stand in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry, and "personally know many gay and lesbian people."
One of the newest members of the group is Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Reed has a record of supporting some gay rights measures, including civil unions. In 2000, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives, he supported hate crime legislation that was ultimately struck down by the state's Supreme Court and in 2004 he was one of just 10 state senators who voted against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state -- but up until this past December, he always stopped short of advocating for same-sex marriage.
Like President Obama, who said last May that his views on same-sex marriage were "evolving," Reed shifted his views on marriage through conversation with family and gay friends.
"For most of my political career I would have been ahead of my time in supporting gay and lesbian issues," Reed said. But over the last several years, public opinion on same-sex marriage and civil unions shifted ahead of Reed. "There's a difference between civil unions and the rights that come with marriage," he said. "For many years I didn't believe that there was a difference."
While Reed knows that change will still be slow in Georgia -- and other states across the South -- he sees the growth of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry as a hopeful sign. "It all helps to create a space in time and an environment where more and more people in the more conservative parts of the United States can come, over time, to the conclusion that I did," he said.
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Voters in Maryland approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election. Initially, the gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012 but opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot. With the passing of marriage equality, same-sex marriage ceremonies are set to begin on January 1, 2013.
Since November 12, 2008
Since April 3, 2009
Maine made history in the November 2012 election when it became the first state to pass marriage equality on the ballot. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage." Just three years ago, a popular vote overturned legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Since May 17, 2004
Since January 1, 2010
Since September 1, 2009
Since March 9, 2010
The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman.
On February 13, 2012, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed a law allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies to begin on June 7, 2012. The process was delayed by gay marriage opponents who gathered enough signatures to put the issue up to a state vote in November 2012. Gay marriage passed on November 7, 2012. The official determination for Washington did not come until one day after the election because of the state's mail-in voting system.
Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the marriage equality bill it into law on May 2, 2013.
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