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COMMENTARY: NFL player Matt Birk shows his true colors

While supporting the right of his teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, to publically declare his support for same-sex marriage, Matt Birk, a center for the Baltimore Ravens, took issue with him and advanced his own counter-view on the marriage equality debate by authoring an opinion editorial that was recently published in his home state, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Birk offered but one argument for defining marriage as between a man and a woman: “The union of a man and a woman is privileged and recognized by society as ‘marriage’ for a reason, and it's not because the government has a vested interest in celebrating the love between two people. With good reason, government recognizes marriages and gives them certain legal benefits so they can provide a stable, nurturing environment for the next generation of citizens: our kids.” Later, in the same piece, he repeats his argument: “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.”

This NFL player’s opinion needs to go up against the big league. How about the Iowa Supreme Court?

In their April 3, 2009, ruling that decided “the state statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman unconstitutional,” the Iowa Supreme Court examined the argument that “the optimal environment for children is to be raised within a marriage of both a mother and a father.” The Court, after hearing “an abundance of evidence and research,” and confirming the findings by independent research, “that the children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents,” concluded that opposition to same-sex marriage “is less about using marriage to achieve an optimal environment for children and more about merely precluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage.” This conclusion led the Court to further remark that “stereotype and prejudice, or some other unarticulated reason [rather than optimal environment for children], could be present to explain the real objectives” to same-sex marriage.

At the end of their ruling, after having rejected other arguments against same-sex marriage, the Court writes: “Now that we have addressed and rejected each specific interest advanced” in defense of marriage as limited to a man and a woman “we consider the reason for the expulsion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken ... : “religious opposition [emphasis mine] to same-sex marriage.”

Obviously, Birk is no match for the Iowa Supreme Court. In fact, his plea for dropping the “bigot” and “homophobic” labels for “people [like himself] who are simply acknowledging the basic reality of marriage between one man and one woman” losses ground against the Court’s statement: “Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained – even fundamental – religious belief.”

In place of “bigotry,” one might say Birk is “religiously intolerant” especially in view of the fact that “marriage is a civil contract” and not a religious order or rite or creed. Just as government, says the Court, “does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions,” neither, explains the Court, in a free society, do religious institutions, through the implementation of laws, impose upon society their particular religious views and practices. “Civil marriage,” wrote the Iowa Supreme Court, “must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals.” In this sense, Birk is either un-American, uninformed of the American way, or simply religiously intolerant of his fellow-citizens who hold a different belief system on marriage.

Is he “homophobic?” Sure he is, even in spite of the fact that his pro-gay-marriage teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo tweeted “I don’t think he’s homophobic.” Matt Birk is buying into, and playing on, people’s fears when he says: “Marriage redefinition will affect the broader well-being of children and the welfare of society.” And when he ties his homophobia to his religious beliefs by saying “as a Christian and a citizen, I am compelled to care about both [society and children]” he is displaying his religious intolerance, tempting others to come very close to using the words “religious bigotry.”

If we go with the Iowa Supreme Court’s assessment, Matt Birk, on the issue of gay marriage and optimum environment for children, is prejudiced, or is being stereotypical, or his religious beliefs have left him totally partial.

According to Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, “Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Ravens fan, wrote a letter to the Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, asking him to prohibit his players from offering political commentary.” Matt Birk might do well to take that advice long enough to do his homework. As for Brendon Ayanbadejo who was the player that upset Burns with his pro-gay marriage comments, he needs to go right on upsetting the state delegate long enough until the state delegate sits down and carefully reads, and fully comprehends, the Iowa Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

(The Rev. Stephen Parelli is executive director of Other Sheep, located in the Bronx in New York City.)