Mayors for Separate but Equal?


Mayor Coleman was once in support of marriage equality for his LGBTQ constituents.  Or so it seemed.

As you may have seen, the confusion began on Jan. 20 when someone, not the mayor and not with the mayor’s approval, added Mayor Coleman’s name as a signatory to the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry statement.

Excited to see his name on the list, I tweeted about it.

Adding to my excitement, @MichaelBColeman retweeted me.  A retweet that can no longer be found…

And neither can the mayor’s name on that list.

In fairness to the mayor, his office says that he didn’t request the name removal.  He merely told Freedom to Marry staff that he was in support of civil unions and they could remove his name if they felt it were appropriate.


But wait.  It gets worse.

According to Dan Williamson, the mayor’s spokesperson,

“As mayor of Columbus, and after the constitutional amendment (that banned same-sex marriage) in 2004, which the mayor is opposed to, [marriage equality is] not part of his duties as mayor,” said Williamson.”

“He can’t perform a marriage or civil union, and until that issue from 2004 is overturned, it’s not an issue that’s particularly relevant.”

Well that’s odd.

Odd, because this is a stance that seems to fly in the face of the mayor’s past support and no doubt surprises many in the Columbus LGBTQ community, including me.   I often brag to my friends in other cities about how LGBTQ-friendly Columbus is.  “It’s the state that’s backwards,” I say, “not the city.  The city’s great!”  Mayor Coleman has been bragging too, taking at least some credit for Columbus’ ranking as a top city for LGBTQ persons.

Making liars out of both of us, Mayor Coleman?

You do realize that being “friendly” to a group of citizens includes, at the very least, advocating for their fair treatment.  Failing to support my right to marry doesn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies.

And the “marriage isn’t a local issue and I’m just a lowly local politician” angle is a poorly thought out excuse at best.  As the Other Paper points out, local officials have historically been instrumental in civil rights discussions. If mayors were so inconsequential in the fight for marriage equality, why would mayors from five of this country’s greatest cities be wasting their time co-chairing the movement?  If any mayor truly questions the relevance of their support for this movement and the impact that support would have, the statement itself clarifies it beautifully:

Our cities derive great strength from their diversity, and gay and lesbian families are a crucial part. Studies have shown what we know through our hands-on experience—that cities that celebrate and cultivate diversity are the places where creativity and ideas thrive. They are the places where today’s entrepreneurs are most likely to choose to build the businesses of tomorrow. Allowing same-sex couples the right to marry enhances our ability to build this kind of environment, which is good for all of us.       

We stand for the freedom to marry because it enhances the economic competitiveness of our communities, improves the lives of families that call our cities home, and is simply the right thing to do.

At its worst, Mayor Coleman’s position is… (sigh)

If you had asked me what I thought of Mayor Coleman before January 20, I would have told you that I was a huge supporter.  At Howard, I was sure to point out our African-American mayor to those who accused Columbus of somehow being less progressive, inclusive or desirable (read: Black) than Cleveland and Cincinnati.  In fact, I think that Columbus has grown well past Cleveland and Cincinnati in terms of arts, culture and LGBTQ equality, something for which I’ve always given Mayor Coleman a heap of credit.

But now… Well, I’m worried.  I’m worried that somewhere, in the midst of all of the wonderful engagement and the landmark partnerships, the message got lost somehow.  The message that the LGBTQ community will not be placated with pseudo-equality and “tolerance”.  The message that civil unions aren’t marriage.  That domestic partnerships aren’t marriage.  That names matter because there is power in naming and words.  And that altering the name of a legal status so as not to offend those who hold tight to its supposed religious underpinnings isn’t equality.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  My love isn’t “less than”.  My marriage isn’t “less than”.  The family we’ve created isn’t “less than”.   Same institution, separate names simply won’t cut it Mayor Coleman.

We were riding the same bus and reaching the same destination, but it wasn’t equality.  Remember?


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