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Lawmaker backs off demand that Ravens silence player’s support of gay marriage

Monday, September 10, 2012
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BALTIMORE, Md. — The Maryland lawmaker who wrote to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens professional football team last month, asking that the team silence linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo over his support of same-sex marriage, has backed off from his opposition following a national outcry after the letter was made public last week.

Emmett C. Burns

Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County), in a telephone interview with The Baltimore Sun on Sunday night, said that, “upon reflection, he has his First Amendment rights, and I have my First Amendment rights … each of us has the right to speak our opinions. The football player and I have a right to speak our minds.”

Burns, who is the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn near Baltimore, wrote a letter August 29 asking Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”

Burns’ demands were in response to Ayanbadejo’s ongoing support for marriage equality; last year, Ayanbadejo appeared in a video campaign of high profile Marylanders aimed at building support for same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland. The bill eventually passed in the state legislature, was signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, and will now be decided by voters in a ballot referendum on November 6.

Support for Ayanbadejo’s stance on the issue of same-sex marriage equality came from all segments of society, including the Baltimore Sun, whose editors, in an op-ed piece reflecting on Burns’ apparent change of heart, applauded the Ravens organization:

In politics, this is known as “walking back” a political position, but in football, it’s closer to a player walking off the field in submission after realizing just how hard he was about to get hit.

That Mr. Burns had to reacquaint himself with the First Amendment in the days after writing to Steve Bisciotti and asking him to “take the necessary action” required to cause his player to “cease and desist” the player’s advocacy of same-sex marriage suggests he has neither the temperament nor the basic understanding of government and law to continue in office. The fact that the use of his office letterhead for the purpose may have violated General Assembly ethics rules only underscores the point.

Kudos to Mr. Bisciotti, who backed his player and has acted honorably from the moment he received what could easily have been taken as an effort to intimidate.

[...]

Mr. Ayanbadejo’s support for same-sex marriage is notable not simply because Maryland voters will soon have a chance to weigh in on the issue but because the insular and macho world of professional sports is one of the last places in America where openly discussing sexual orientation is taboo.

During the initial publicity over Burns’ letter, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe hammered the lawmaker in an open letter that quickly went viral.

“As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom,” Kluwe wrote.

Celebrity support has also come from talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Keith Olbermann.

In a telephone conversation Monday afternoon with a spokesperson for the Ellen DeGeneres show, LGBTQ Nation was told that DeGeneres had reached out to Ayanbadejo, asking him to appear on her show.

On Saturday, Ayanbadejo posted this status update on his Facebook page: “They expected me to get a timeout but all they did was unleash a world wide cry for equality!!!”

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