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Why Every Athlete in America Must Stand Up for Gay Marriage

Openly gay professional athletes Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis probably never thought they’d see the day when they could gain the same federal and state rights as straight couples. But, as the Supreme Court gears up to issue rulings in the two landmark same-sex marriage cases, DOMA and Prop. 8., that day is on the horizon. And that’s exactly why every athlete in America must stand up for gay rights this week.

I began advocating for marriage equality four years ago. As the child of a Nigerian dad and Irish-American mom, I was raised to believe that discrimination is wrong, and our differences don’t matter. Unfortunately, this view hasn’t always been popular in America. From slavery and segregation to suffrage and anti-miscegenation laws, restrictions on human rights have been far too common in our country’s history. But while virtually every other group has gained their rights to equality, gay people have not.

Now in 2013, same-sex marriages are still prohibited. I’m convinced we will look back in a decade and be amazed that gay people did not have the same rights as every one else, in the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Since I first began my career in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, LGBT Americans have struggled to make gains in state legislatures, schools, and boardrooms across America. Wall Street and CEOs have created internal departments focused on LGBT diversity and inclusion. President Obama ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and made history again in his inaugural address, when he called for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. But, federal laws are still mostly nonexistent for our LGBT brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. 

How can we be surprised that homophobia exists, when gay people can still be fired and evicted from their homes in 38 states? If Big Brother continues to practice homophobia, then athletes, politicians, and society at large will continue to discriminate without blinking an eye.

It’s time for the Supreme Court to change that. Athletes and the rest of society look to government for direction and insight – so the Court must step up to the plate. With one single decision, SCOTUS can usher in a complete and total political and social shift in support of diversity and anti-discrimination for all.

Athletes can help to make this dream a reality.

Let’s get one thing straight: This is not a religious issue. Marriage is merely a legal contract/document from the state, not a mandate from God. If religious institutions do not offer same sex marriage, it is their right to do so. If they do offer it, I'm sure our religious LGBT families will be elated to have their dream weddings within those institutions. This is a human rights issue. An issue of equality for all.

Since human rights are far more important than sports, athletes must become allies, willing to use our status to stand up for a larger purpose, to stand up for what’s right. As athletes, we hold sway in the court of public opinion. We are leaders and role models for millions of people across the country. We CAN help swing the Court to support equality and diversity. Not because it is the popular thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.

Gay people are one of the only groups remaining that don't have equal rights. As athletes, it is our time to change that. This is our cause.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is on the Board of Directors of Athlete Ally, an organization that encourages athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression. Check them out of Facebook (facebook.com/AthleteAlly) and Twiter (@athleteally).

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