ATLANTA — In a quest for a little 1996 Olympic gold, a Georgia county whose officials last year passed a resolution condemning homosexuality decided Wednesday that gays aren't so bad after all.
Cobb County commissioners did not rescind the earlier resolution--that will "never" happen, the commission chairman vowed--but a proclamation issued Wednesday welcomes everyone to the county regardless of sexual orientation and assures gays that they will not be discriminated against.
The proclamation was approved in an effort to keep the organization that is planning the 1996 Olympic Games from yanking the preliminaries for a volleyball competition and several Olympic training sites out of the conservative county, which is just north of Atlanta.
There were indications the proclamation may not go far enough.
"I'm delighted to see some progress being made" on the issue, said Billy Payne, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. He added, however, that the committee would continue to study whether the events could be moved without causing too much inconvenience to the athletes.
"We're studying all of the ramifications," he said, adding: "I hope that reasonable folks are going to reach reasonable conclusions."
County commissioners caused a firestorm of protest last July when they passed a resolution condemning the "homosexual lifestyle" and cut off all county funding to the arts in response to local production of a play, "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," that contains references to homosexuality.
To pressure the county to rescind the resolution, gay activists began targeting Olympic organizers. After at first steadfastly refusing to become enmeshed in local controversies, Olympic officials--along with local business people who fear losing the financial windfall Olympic venues will bring--recently began urging Cobb County officials to address the issue.
The county convention center expects to receive $500,000 in rent payments for hosting the volleyball preliminaries. The Olympics could pump $5 billion into the state's economy, one study said.
Explaining the resolution during a press conference Wednesday, Commission Chairman Bill Byrnes said: "If someone is gay, they will be welcome in Cobb County in 1996, as they are today. It's when they stand up and say they want to be treated differently because they're gay that I will oppose it."
He added, however, that the 1993 resolution "will continue to stand. All of the threats will be of no avail in Cobb County."
Gay activists questioned how the county could welcome gays at the same time it condemns them, and promised to continue to protest. If the 1993 resolution is not rescinded, gays threaten an escalating campaign of protest and civil disobedience culminating in a massive demonstration during the Olympics that would embarrass both the county and the Olympic organizing committee.
Saying that his first priority was the welfare of the athletes and the staging of successful Games, Payne expressed weariness at efforts to pull the Olympics into local controversies.
Among other issues threatening to tarnish the Games is a continuing battle over the Georgia state flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle emblem from the Civil War.
"We can't solve everybody's problems," Payne said. "We prefer to just do our job of putting on the Games."