Professional athletes rarely take public stands on political issues, but Maryland's gay marriage initiative has pitted two Baltimore Ravens football players -- Matt Birk and Brendon Ayanbadejo -- against each other. Another football player, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, has also weighed in on the matter.
Maryland is trying to become the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum, and Ayanbadejo has been vocal in his support of Question 6, the initiative under consideration, while Birk has been campaigning against the measure, which is on Maryland's ballot in November.
Birk has written an op-ed and appeared in commercials against the ballot measure and Ayanbadejo has been involved in fundraisers in support of the initiative. Next week, Ayanbadejo will even appear with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at an event in support of Question 6.
Birk and Ayanbadejo, though, have been very civil. Birk told Ayanbadejo about his op-ed against Question 6 before it was published and Ayanbadejo has publicly stated Birk is not homophobic and should not be vilified.
Birk, a Catholic who is from Minnesota and used to play for the Minnesota Vikings, publicly weighed in on the issue when he wrote an op-ed in the Minnesota Star-Tribune last Sunday expressing his support for traditional marriage.
“Same-sex unions may not affect my marriage specifically, but it will affect my children -- the next generation,” Birk wrote. “Ideas have consequences, and laws shape culture. Marriage redefinition will affect the broader well-being of children and the welfare of society. As a Christian and a citizen, I am compelled to care about both.”
Birk said he was speaking out on the issue because “it is far too important to remain silent. People who are simply acknowledging the basic reality of marriage between one man and one woman are being labeled as ‘bigots’ and ‘homophobic.’”
“A defense of marriage is not meant as an offense to any person or group,” Birk wrote. “There is no opposition between providing basic human rights to everyone and preserving marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.”
Chris Kluwe, a former teammate of Birk’s the Minnesota Vikings punter, countered Birk’s op-ed in Minnesota in the Pioneer Press and wrote that denying gay marriage rights would be “infringing on the free will of other human beings by denying them their basic right to live free of oppression.”
“I love my daughters for their minds and their personalities, not for who they love as adults,” Kluwe wrote. “That’s none of my damn business, and I will support them in life no matter who they want to marry.”
Earlier in September, Kluwe made national headlines when he wrote a blistering letter to Maryland state delegate Emmett Burns after Burns wrote to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in the first week of September and urged him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee” and that he knew of “no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayambadejo [sic] is doing.”
This prompted Kluwe to write to Burns: “I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life.”
“They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster,” Kluwe wrote. “I've also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage so you can take your ‘I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing’ and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it.”
Ayanbadejo, whose mother is Irish-American and father is Nigerian, was raised in Chicago's projects and played college football in Southern California at U.C.L.A. He often compares the legal barriers gay couples face to civil rights barriers faced by past generations.
"There was a time when women didn't have rights. Black people didn't have rights," he said. "Right now, gay rights is a big issue and it's been for a long time. We're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality."
Ayanbadejo recorded a spot in support of Question 6, saying he believes "we should be doing everything we can to make Maryland families stronger."
"Join me, it's the right thing to do," Ayanbadejo says in the commercial.
Birk has recorded a commercial for the Maryland Catholic Conference Channel, and he says in the spot that marriage has lasted because it provides a "unique foundation for society and children."
Birk acknowledges in the commercial that gay and lesbian couples already receive hospital visitations and tax benefits in Maryland and stands in his support for traditional marriage.
“Marriage is and should remain between a man and a woman,” Birk says in the commercial. “We don’t need to redefine marriage. Vote against Question 6.”