Longtime anti-gay state Del. Emmett C Burns, Jr. announced on July 8 he will not seek re-election in 2014. Burns, 72, has represented his Baltimore County district in the House of Delegates since 1995, and some have speculated that his decision was a result of redistricting whereby he could lose a re-election bid. He explained, however, “The legislature has become too liberal for me. I don’t need the headache anymore.”
Indeed, following the passage of the bill that legalized same-sex marriage in Maryland, Burns told the Baltimore Sun, “It’s taken a big chunk out of my belief in what is right. If we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to end up on a slippery slope that we’ll never get out of.”
Burns was a persistent opponent of the bill, which was ultimately signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley in March of 2012. During the campaign later that year to overturn the law by referendum, Burns was a powerful leader in that movement.
He made national news in September 2012 when he tried to get the Baltimore Ravens to prevent linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a proponent of marriage equality, from speaking out on the matter.
“I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player, “Burns wrote in his letter. “Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.”
The Ravens refused his request stating that Ayanbadejo had the right to express himself. “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment,” team president Dick Cass said. Burns was later disciplined by the House of Delegates for using official letterhead in his request to the team’s owner Steve Bisciotti. Burns later acknowledged that Ayanbadejo had a right to his opinion.
Following that action by the House, Burns said, “I am unalterably opposed to same-sex marriage, and I have been very aggressive in my opposition to same-sex marriage.”
Similar to his colleague Del. Donald Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel), Burns characterized his tenure in the House by not only his stance against same-sex marriage but gay rights in general. He opposed any legislation that prevented discrimination against LGBT students or gay employees on the job.
He bristles when the battle to achieve LGBT rights is compared to civil rights. In 2007, Burns, a pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn and a civil rights activist for many years, said, “I get really bent out of shape when you talk about gay and lesbian rights as a civil rights issue. Whites can hide their gayness; I cannot hide my blackness.”
Back in 1996 when Maryland was considering benefits for gay and lesbian couples, Burns said in an interview, “I’m not homophobic. I have no animosity toward them. I would say go forward and make love — in private. But don’t go down to the courthouse and ask for a license for public approval of your relationship.”
At the time he took office, most of the voters agreed with his position. Over time, other elected officials and the public at large shifted their views.
Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland from 2003 to 2008, did not mince words upon learning of Burns’ retirement.
“Del. Burns long represented one of the loudest, most vicious voices of intolerance in the Maryland General Assembly, going so far as to tell the Washington Post that he couldn’t stand the thought of a gay couple moving next door and having their children play with his children,” Furmansky said. “For many in our community, his words have been like poison seeping into our veins. His retirement is a cause for celebration, and also a time for vigilance to ensure no one dons his bigot’s cloak and takes his place.”