ATLANTA (AP) -- Many Georgia gay voters -- a group political experts say could sway a close Democratic primary -- say they plan to boycott the July 18 gubernatorial contest between Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Analysts say that could spell trouble for Cox, who was thought to be the favorite of metro Atlanta's large and politically active gay and lesbian community.
Gays and lesbians, who are concentrated in Fulton and DeKalb counties, are angry at Cox for what they call a "flip-flop" on the gay marriage issue. Two years ago Cox blasted the state's Republican-authored constitutional gay-marriage ban as "unnecessary." But she recently backed a call for a special legislative session to reinstate the ban after it was thrown out by a Superior Court judge.
"I had a Cathy Cox bumper sticker on my car. I made a contribution. I even stuffed some envelopes for her," said Joshua Stewart, 27, of Atlanta. "Now I won't be voting for a Democrat in the gubernatorial election."
Cox says her position on gay marriage has remained constant and that she has reached out to gay leaders in an attempt to explain her reasoning. Many gays, however, say they will vote in the Democratic primary but boycott the gubernatorial slate entirely.
"I think those sentiments are widespread right now, especially in the metro Atlanta area," said Chuck Bowen, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state's largest gay rights organization. University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said a boycott would be bad news for Cox.
"It certainly could hurt her in a big way if this vote stays home," he said.
Georgia's 3.2 million voters approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 by a 76 percent margin. State law already prevented gay marriages, but supporters said a constitutional amendment would strengthen the ban.
The margin was 80 percent or greater in 140 of the state's 159 counties and 90 percent or higher in 25 counties. Bullock said the huge margins caused some Democrats to re-examine their positions.
Metro Atlanta has the largest number of gays and lesbians of any community in the Southeast, according to Sean Cahill, who studies demographics for the New York-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Taylor and Cox are locked in a close duel for the Democratic nomination that concludes in just seven weeks. Political analysts say Taylor probably has the advantage in the African-American community, which composes about half the Democratic primary vote. But Cox is thought to be the front-runner among women voters -- 60 percent of the primary vote -- and, until recently, among gays and lesbians.
Cox and her campaign officials have tried to downplay the recent flap. Campaign spokesman Peter Jackson said only 11 gay donors had asked for their campaign donations back. That amounted to about $8,000, he said.
"There have been a reasonable number of telephone calls and e-mails with people wanting some clarification or wanting to express their opinion on Cathy's position," Jackson said.
Lawrie Demorest, an Atlanta lawyer and national board co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign, told a recent gathering that the "most painful thing" about the renewed gay marriage controversy was not Perdue's call for a special session "but people we had come to rely on who joined him in the call."
Cox wrote a May 19 letter to Bowen, the executive director of Georgia Equality, the state's largest gay rights organization, defending her position.
In the letter, Cox said she had always believed that marriage ought to be defined as the union of one man and one woman, but that an amendment wasn't necessary because of existing state law.
Many Democrats said Republicans proposed the ban in a cynical ploy to activate their conservative voter base.
Cox went on to say she thought it was best to resolve the issue now in a special session rather than have it "overshadow all other important issues" for the next two years.