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.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • New York

    New York lawmakers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/24/new-york-gay-marriage_n_907901.html" target="_blank">legalized same-sex marriage on July 24, 2011</a>, making it the largest state at the time to pass such legislation.

  • Maryland

    Voters in Maryland <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election</a>. 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 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/maryland-gay-marriage_n_2389044.html" target="_blank">ceremonies began on Jan. 1, 2013</a>.

  • Connecticut

    Connecticut's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/10/connecticut-gay-marriage_n_133605.html" target="_blank">ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry on Nov. 12, 2008</a>, making it the third state in the nation to do achieve marriage equality.

  • Iowa

    Iowa's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage-ban-rul_n_182782.html" target="_blank">ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional</a> on April 3, 2009.

  • Maine

    Maine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">made history in the November 2012 election</a> 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.

  • Massachusetts

    Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-legal-same-sex-marriage-performed-in-massachusetts" target="_blank"> legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004</a>. The state's Supreme Court initially found the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional on Nov. 18, 2003.

  • New Hampshire

    Same-sex couples were able to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-6042937.html" target="_blank">begin seeking marriage licenses</a> on Jan. 1, 2010.

  • Vermont

    Vermont, which invented civil unions, became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/07/vermont-legalizes-gay-mar_n_184034.html" target="_blank">the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature's vote</a> -- overriding the governor's veto. Same-sex couples were able to begin marrying on Sept, 1, 2009.

  • Washington D.C.

    Gay couples were able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/gay-marriage-dc-council-p_n_375435.html" target="_blank">begin marrying in the nation's capital</a> on March 9, 2010.

  • California

    The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/proposition-8-timeline_n_3503512.html" target="_blank">voters passed Proposition 8</a>, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 26, 2013, by a 5-4 vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/hollingsworth-v-perry-ruling_n_3438269.html" target="_blank">the Supreme Court justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry</a> that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial, opening the door for marriages to resume in the state.

  • Washington

    On February 13, 2012, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/13/washington-gay-marriage-signed-chris-gregoire_n_1273887.html" target="_blank">signed a law allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies</a> 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. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/09/washington-gay-marriage-law_n_2266574.html" target="_blank">Gay marriage passed on November 7, 2012.</a> The official determination for Washington did not come until one day after the election because of the state's mail-in voting system.

  • Rhode Island

    Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/gay-marriage-minnesota-rhode-island_n_3686034.html" target="_blank">signed the marriage equality bill</a> into law on May 2, 2013.

  • Delaware

    Delaware obtained gay marriage when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/delaware-gay-marriage-law-_n_3232771.html" target="_blank">Governor Jack Markell signed the marriage equality bill it into law</a> on May 7, 2013.

  • Minnesota

    Minnesota same-sex couples achieved marriage equality when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the legislation into law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/minnesota-gay-marriage-legal-_n_3275484.html" target="_blank">on May 14, 2013</a>.

  • New Jersey

    Newark Mayor Cory Booker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/20/cory-booker-same-sex-marriage_n_4134116.html?&ir=Gay%20Voices&utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">began marrying same-sex couples</a> at City Hall at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.

  • Hawaii

    Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law on Nov. 13, 2013, making it the 15th state to pass such legislation.

  • Illinois

    Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, with the House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/illinois-gay-marriage_n_4220793.html" target="_blank">having passed the bill on Nov. 5</a>. and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the legislation on Nov. 20.

  • New Mexico

    On Dec. 19, the New Mexico Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/new-mexico-gay-marriage_n_4474507.html?ir=Gay%20Voices" target="_blank">unanimously ruled</a> that same-sex marriage rights are protected under the Constitution.