Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D) has once again caused a nationwide stir on the subject of same-sex marriage, this time after criticizing a National Football League (NFL) player for publicly advocating for gay marriage.
The dustup was touched off when Burns, 72, sent a letter to Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti Aug. 29 urging him to muzzle linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a supporter of same-sex marriage who late last year made a video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Burns, who is the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Baltimore, said that “many” of his constituents and football fans “are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens…would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other."
In response, some of Ayanbadejo’s teammates and other NFL players have backed him, including Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who, in an editorial littered with profanity published on Deadspin.com, soundly castigated Burns.
“I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland's state government,” Kluwe wrote. “Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.”
During her show Sept. 11, television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who told the audience that she recently celebrated her fourth wedding anniversary with actress Portia de Rossi, jumped into the fray. She told her viewers that while “the [Green Bay] Packers and [New Orleans] the Saints are my teams…now I’m a huge fan of the Ravens and Vikings.” She said Ayanbadejo “was attacked and condemned by a Baltimore politician” for making the video, but that Kluwe had defended him.
“This guy from the Minnesota Vikings,” she told her audience, as pictures of both players were displayed behind her, “wrote the most articulate and eloquent letter defending Brendon and equal rights.” She urged her audience to read the letter despite its off-color language and extraordinary length, calling it “beautiful, amazing, brilliant.”
Burns told the AFRO Sept. 5 that he sent the letter, which was written on his official Maryland House of Delegates letterhead, because he felt it inappropriate for an NFL player to use his celebrity to campaign for a controversial cause.
“I asked the player to cease and desist,” Burns said.
The recent controversy is the second in only a few months for Burns, who four months ago announced that he would not vote for President Obama--and encouraged others to stay home on Nov. 6--because of the chief executive’s support of same-sex marriage. But in the interview with the AFRO, he said he had changed his mind. He was born in Jackson, Miss., one of the areas where the fight for integration was toughest. He said that in light of that, friends and family urged him to change his mind.
“I am supporting him, but I don’t like his decision on same-sex marriage,” he said of Obama. “My own brother and my uncle said, ‘We died to get the right to vote.’ I think everyone should vote. I will support the president. I am supporting him.”
Burns, who said he succeeded the late civil rights legend Medgar Evers as NAACP director in Mississippi in the mid 1960s, said he is concerned about the level of influence “the gay and lesbian lobby” has had in the dialogue about the proposed gay marriage law in Maryland. He said that he believes that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had “pushed through the same-sex marriage law” despite significant opposition among many of the state’s voters.
In the video, Ayanbadejo said he believes that the legalization of same-sex marriage is “the right thing to do.”
“I believe we should be doing everything we can to make Maryland families stronger, which is why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other,” he said.
In a statement, Ravens’ President Dick Cass said, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.”
Voters will decide on Nov. 6 if Maryland, which recognizes same-sex marriages from other states, will legalize the unions. Six states and the District of Columbia have gay marriage laws.