Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo on Monday said he is “excited” to speak in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
“I’ve gone out to the polls and passed out fliers and done stuff like that, but I’ve never spoken in front of a courthouse or in any type of rally ever before,” he told the Washington Blade during an extended interview. “This is sort of uncharted territory for me. I’m kind of the most unlikely of people to do so where everyone else will be some sort of activist or is some way involved in politics. I’m just a concerned citizen.”
Ayanbadejo, who will speak alongside D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and others outside the Supreme Court before the justices hear oral arguments in a case that challenges California’s Proposition 8, in 2009 became the first professional athlete to endorse marriage rights for same-sex couples. He also became one of the most public faces of last year’s campaign in support of the referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
State Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) told team owner Steve Bisciotti that Ayanbadejo “should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base” last August after he donated two Ravens tickets as part of a Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser.
The Ravens and Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings are among those who defended Ayanbadejo. A Maryland legislative committee last month concluded Burns violated the General Assembly’s ethics rules when he wrote to Bisciotti on official stationary.
“I’m pretty proud to pay taxes and be in Maryland and be in a state that’s paving the way that’s really trailblazing and changing people’s minds and opinions and attitudes toward LGBT equality,” Ayanbadejo said.
Ayanbadejo, whose father is Nigerian and mother is of Irish descent, added he feels highlighting the fact his parents and other interracial couples could not legally marry in some states before the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down such bans in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision is an effective argument within the current debate.
“In Loving v. Virginia we were fighting for interracial marriage and now we’re fighting for LGBT marriage or same-sex marriage,” he said. “The overlying issue is government trying to dictate who we should love and the Constitution clearly that states everyone is created equal and has equal protections under the law, but clearly they don’t.”
Ayanbadejo conceded he has received some criticism over this comparison, but not from communities of color.
“This is a civil rights issue; this is a human rights issue,” he said. “There’s been much opposition to that, but I still firmly believe in my stance that it is an equal rights issue. People are entitled to their opinions, but it’s the fact of the matter that people are not treated equally and that’s something you can’t argue about. Equality is not somebody’s opinion. It’s your right as an American citizen.”
Ayanbadejo fights anti-LGBT stigma in sports
Ayanbadejo, who filed a brief in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples with the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case with Kluwe, is working with Athlete Ally to fight homophobia and transphobia in sports.
He told the Blade most of his Ravens teammates either “flat out agree with me” on nuptials for gays and lesbians or claim the word marriage cannot be used to describe same-sex unions because of what the Bible says.
Ayanbadejo said these attitudes have begun to shift.
“We’re definitely changing the tide, even in the locker room,” he said. “We’re just a little bit behind.”
Ayanbadejo is friends with gay former professional football player Wade Davis. He said he is also trying to reach out to former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Kwame Harris whose sexual orientation became known after he allegedly attacked his ex-boyfriend last August.
“If you’re in the locker room and can be yourself not only will you play better, but you’ll also be a better person and better in the community,” Ayanbadejo said as he discussed his work with Athlete Ally. “You’ll be able to flourish more so.”
He further described gay Olympian Greg Louganis, whom he watched on television when he was a child, as an additional role model.
“I’ll never forget Greg Louganis diving and getting excited and winning his gold medal and later coming out on ‘Oprah,’” Ayanbadejo said, noting the two men have become friends. “I didn’t know him when I was younger, but I knew his fight and everything that he had gone through. And now to be friends with him as an adult, he was definitely was a role model for me as a younger child.”
Ayanbadejo has tickets to go inside the Supreme Court, but his nearly 2-year-old son is having heart surgery in a couple of weeks so he is going to return home almost immediately after tomorrow’s rally.
He told the Blade he plans to remain involved in the LGBT rights movement once the justices issue their rulings in the two cases.
“Even though it’s advocacy work I just consider myself a concerned citizen and i’m going to uphold the Constitution and make sure America’s accountable to treat everybody equal,” Ayanbadejo said. “Eventually my work will subside in this area and everybody will vote toward acceptance and the laws change. It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight.”
He added he remains particularly proud of his work around marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland.
“My legacy will always be there,” Ayanbadejo said, reflecting once again on his broader advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. “It is something that I will always carry with me and I’ll always cherish the work I’ve done for the LGBT community. Right now we’re at a tipping point where we’re gaining the momentum, but we still have a long way to go.”