“It was a family values resolution that he passed condemning the gay lifestyle,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, Byrne, the county chairman at the time, claims the anti-gay resolution wasn’t his idea, but acknowledges he did vote for it. And he maintains that Cobb still prospered because hotels and restaurants in the county were filled for the duration of the ’96 Games.
Lee gives his recollection of how the resolution came to pass in 1993.
“It was basically in response to a play (“Lips Together, Teeth Apart”) that was on at (the now-shuttered) Theatre in the Square where there was an open display of a relationship between two gentlemen,” Lee said. “And they (the commissioners) were offended by it, so they passed a resolution condemning that lifestyle. Call it, if you would, ‘family values.’ The Olympics pulled volleyball out of Cobb County — and all that economic impact and all the positive things that could have been happening to tourism — pulled that out of Cobb and made Cobb the laughing stock of the world.”
Volleyball was scheduled to be held at the Cobb Galleria for the 1996 Olympics, but was subsequently moved out of the county after the resolution was approved, Lee said.
“They didn’t have to go and make a moral proclamation that they know better than anyone else,” Lee said. “The issue of sexuality is between a person and their maker. … It’s not the place of local government to regulate morality.”
Byrne pointed out that the resolution was brought forward not by him but by then-east Cobb commissioner Gordon Wysong.
“I fought him for six months to keep it off the agenda,” Byrne said.
Even so, once it was brought forward, Byrne said he voted for it.
“The concept of it was ‘do you support the traditional family values or do you support the gay rights agenda?’” Byrne said. “When given that as the question, then the answer to me is pretty clear. On that basis, I voted for the resolution.”
Organizers of the Olympics warned that they would move the volleyball venue unless the commission repealed the resolution, Byrne said.
So Byrne polled commissioners to see if he had the votes to repeal it.
“It was 3-2 (Byrne and Bill Cooper in favor of repeal) that it would die a death, so I never brought it forward,” Byrne said.
While the volleyball venue was indeed removed from the county, Cobb still received millions in revenues from visitors who stayed in hotel rooms, ate at local restaurants and visited White Water and Six Flags, he said.
“For two weeks, the enormous financial impact on Cobb County was huge,” Byrne said. “Losing volleyball didn’t hurt Cobb County a single bit. It was a political way out for the Olympics Committee to sidestep the criticism that they were getting from the gay community within the city of Atlanta.”
Byrne said the resolution flap cost him on a personal level.
“What compounded all of this, and this is public information as well, on a personal level I paid one hell of a price because I have a gay daughter, and she was brought into the arena by that community and played against me,” he said.
In hindsight, Byrne said he should never have allowed the resolution to be brought to the floor for a vote.
Were he given the chance to do it again, Byrne said, “I would have personally gotten my revolver and shot Gordon Wysong between the eyes.”
“That has absolutely nothing to do with governing a local jurisdiction,” he said. “It turned into a national issue. In the year 2000, the gay rights agenda was a major issue in the debate for president. We said that was going to happen, that these issues were just beginning, and they were. Today as we speak the issue of gays in the military with regard to President Obama is just an extension, and the concept of the gay community is ‘let’s take one battle at a time and win one at a time,’ and now it’s gay marriage.”
And where do Lee and Byrne stand on the issue of gay marriage?
“I’m not gay, so I don’t have to worry about that,” Lee said.
Byrne avoided answering the question as well.
“I’m not going to answer a question like that,” he said.