Catholic Football Players Have Different Approaches to Marriage Equality

Sometimes, the issue of marriage equality is referred to as a “political football.”  That term became very literal this week, as National Football League players joined the debate about marriage equality around the country.  Interestingly, Catholic angles figure in two of these prominent stories.

Matt Birk

In the first story, Matt Birk, a center for the Baltimore Ravens and a Minnesota native,  penned an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune supporting his home state’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-gender marriage.   He used religious language to make his case:

“Same-sex unions may not affect my marriage specifically, but it will affect my children — the next generation. Ideas have consequences, and laws shape culture. 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.”

According to a news report in the Baltimore Sun, Birk, a Catholic and the father of six, also supported the amendment in a three-and-a-half minute video where he refers to his “Catholic values.”  The video originated with the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Birk’s views differ from his teammate, Brendan Ayanbadejo, who has been promoting marriage equality in Maryland, and also from Chris Kluwe,  a member of Birk’s former team, the Minneosta Vikings.  Kluwe opposes Minnesota’s proposed ban.

Matt Willig

In the second story, Matt Willig, a former NFL offensive linemen who played with Brett Favre, Boomer Esiason, and Kurt Warner, sat down for an interview with in which he talked about his activism to defeat Proposition 8 in California, as well as his Catholic faith.  He acknowledges a struggle with his faith that emerged as an evolution in his thinking:

“Willig has known gay people all his life and considers some among his friends. Yet Catholic doctrine has had a strong role in his belief system since childhood. It’s one thing to know gay people or share a drink with them; It’s another to thing to reject decades of anti-gay preaching for a structural shift in the institution of marriage that the Church holds so dear.

“ ‘When you grow up in a Catholic upbringing, and the conservativeness of that, and I’m still a practicing Catholic, I struggled with how the Church stood on that,’ Willig said. ‘I also see the complete hypocrisy that goes on with the Church, and their stance on gays, and the things that go on with the Church. That was the struggle I dealt with.’

“Ultimately his position came down to priorities. On this particular issue, would he put greater value in the Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage, or the American passion for individual liberty? . . .

“Willig has arrived on the side of equality.”

Willig is pursuing an acting career now in Los Angeles, but his faith remains an important part of his life, as well as his support for LGBT equality:

“He’s also keenly watching his beloved Catholic Church. While he’s parted with them on this issue, his religion continues to play a strong role in his life. He focuses on his Catholicism in raising his two daughters – He simply shifts the attention to individual liberty over the Pope when it comes to two people loving each other.

“ ‘It’s the evolution of our society in the last 20 years, the feeling of more equality, and the negative stigma of gay people has eroded and gone away.’ ”


–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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