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


The Best of 2011: The Year in Review, Part 2

Yesterday, we posted “The Worst of 2011,” listing the worst of the negative LGBT Catholic news from the past year.  As promised, today we offer the “The Best of 2011” for the same topic.

As you will see when you compare these lists, the “best” outweigh the “worst,” making 2011 a pretty good year for LGBT Catholics and those who support them.

The Best of 2011 in LGBT Catholic News

1)  According to a Public Religion Research Institute report, the majority of  U.S. Catholics support justice and equality initiatives for LGBT people, including legal rights for lesbian/gay committed couples.

2) Marriage equality becomes law in New York, the largest state yet to make marriage legal for lesbian/gay couples.  Passage of the law is credited to Catholic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who strongly supported the bill despite strong opposition from the state’s Catholic hierarchy.

3) Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations that work for LGBT justice and equality (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry), sponsors the first-ever Congressional briefing on Catholic support for LGBT issues.  Scores of congressional staffers attend the event on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

4) Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn, NY, publishes an op-ed essay in the Buffalo News on Catholic outreach to LGBT  people.

5) The “More Than A Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” conference series is held four different college campuses, two of them Catholic:  Fordham University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, Fairfield University.

6) Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center receives a $1 million donation from former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife, Chandler.

7) The students at DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the nation, elect their first openly gay student body president, Anthony Alfano.

8) When a Boston-area parish elementary school bars admission to the child of a lesbian couple, the Boston archdiocese overturns this decision and institutes a non-discrimination policy.

9) Marquette University institutes domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff.

10) A report on the sexual abuse crisis from John Jay College states that gay priests were not the cause of the crisis, and that homosexuality is not linked to pedophilia.

11) The Los Angeles Archdiocese celebrates 25 years of its Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics program.

12) The Bishops of England and Wales support civil partnership laws for lesbian/gay couples.

13) Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo, Mexico, vows to continue his LGBT outreach after he was called to the Vatican to discuss his program.

14) Though marriage equality does not pass in Maryland, the bill is introduced by Catholic Senator Robert Garagiola, is supported by numerous Catholic legislators and the Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley.  When it is announced that the bill will be introduced again in the next session, O’Malley plans to work harder for its passage.

15)  DignityUSA hosts its biennial convention, featuring television personality Phil Donahue as a speaker.

16) New Ways Ministry publishes a new book, Marriage Equality: A Positive of  Catholic Approach, and quickly runs out of its first printing.   New Ways also sponsors a conference day in Maryland on marriage equality.  Later in the year, New Ways Ministry institutes a blog to cover LGBT Catholic news, Bondings 2.0  (you’re reading it now!)

Some analysis

2011 may well be seen as a turning point year in the Catholic LGBT movement due to the many positive things that have occurred.

A definite trend to watch is how much positive movement there is on Catholic college campuses in this area.  As we know, young people are much more inclined to accept LGBT people, so campuses are responding in the same spirit.

Another trend I notice is that politicians, even Catholic ones, no longer fear the wrath of the hierarchy on issues like marriage equality.  One reason for this is probably that political leaders are becoming aware that Catholic are more positive on LGBT issues.  Another reason that is true for Catholic politicians, though, is that they are starting to support marriage equality because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Many of their statements use Catholic social justice teaching to back up their pro-marriage equality positions.

Yesterday I pointed out that all the items on the “worst” list involved bishops.  What I noticed as I put together this “best” list is that bishops figure prominently in some of these events, signaling that there is hope for change in the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

What do you think?  Did we miss some positive events that you thought worthy of the list?  Do you notice any other trends in the past year?

Here are some other year-end round-ups that, while not on LGBT  Catholic issues, might be of interest: 14 Reasons That Made 2011 Great for Trans People

New York Times Blog: In California, 2011 Was a Good Year for Causes of Gays Pro-LGBT Christian Voices Take Center Stage in 2011: The Top 10 (though I have to wonder why, given the wealth of stories listed above, that no Catholic story made this list) On Faith Blog: The 11 Most Important Religion and Politics Findings of 2011

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry