Hockey Star Comes Out As Marriage Equality Supporter
Hockey is a rough sport, and Sean Avery of the New York Rangers is one of the toughest guys on the ice. That’s why, when Avery became the first athlete to join the Human Rights Campaign’s New Yorkers for Marriage Equality series of ads featuring celebrities from politics and entertainment, headlines were the result.
Up until Avery’s participation in the series of video spots, "One type of New York celebrity was conspicuously absent: the athlete," reported the New York Times on May 7.
Avery’s video message stands out in a sporting world still stereotyped as homophobic.
"No active male player in a major American team sport has declared his homosexuality, and homosexual slurs remain in use to insult opponents and officials," the Times noted.
"The places I’ve played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years," the hockey star told the New York Times. "I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends."
Avery told the newspaper that he thought his gay friends and their families should be treated the same way heterosexual families are.
"Maybe I can help, and I jumped at this opportunity," he said.
GLBT equality advocates praised the sports hero.
"Sean Avery is a true leader on the ice and off," the HRC’s Brian Ellner told the publication. "His commitment as the first New York professional athlete to campaign for marriage equality is an important step as we grow the majority of New Yorkers who already want all loving and committed New York couples to have the same rights."
But a vice president from one sports agency tweeted a post calling Avery’s pro-marriage equality message "misguided," reported Fox Sports on May 10.
"In Twitter posts Monday, Todd Reynolds, the vice president of Uptown Sports--based in Burlington, Ontario--voiced his disapproval of Avery’s stance," the Fox Sports article said.
"Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ’marriage,’ " tweeted Reynolds. "Legal or not, it will always be wrong."
The tweet drew heated reactions, the article said. Reynolds hastened to "clarify" his earlier post, following up with a tweet that read, "This is not hatred or bigotry towards gays. It is not intolerance in any way shape or form."
Reynolds went on to add, "I believe we are all equal," and to insist, "But I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. This is my personal viewpoint. I Do not hate anyone."
In the video, Avery identifies himself and says, "I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated, and that applies to marriage."
"Committed couples should be able to marry the person they love," Avery continues. "Join me in supporting marriage equality."
The article noted that there is a small, but growing number of athletes who have spoken out in favor of full legal recognition for same-sex families. Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo made headlines in 2009 when he lent his support to family parity.
"America is not Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, or any other religion that is out there," wrote Ayanbadejo in an April 23, 2009, op-ed essay at the Huffington Post. "And the pantheon of gods can attest that there are hundreds of them. We are a secular capitalistic democracy. That’s it."
Added the linebacker, "If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can’t a loving same sex couple tie the knot? How could our society grant more rights to a heterosexual one night stand wedding in Vegas than a gay couple that has been together for 3, 5, 10 years of true love?"
Noted the player, "The divorce rate in America is currently 50%. I am willing to bet that same sex marriages have a higher success rate than heterosexual marriages."
Ayanbadejo compared the progress of the GLBT equality movement to historical struggles for equality from racial minorities and women, noting that many legal disparities have been overcome already.
He then made a prediction for the future. "I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as everyone else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?"
Another NFL player, the New Orleans Saints’ defensive captain Scott Fujita, offered his own take on the issue in a Sept. 29, 209, article that appeared at The Nation. Fujita took note of Ayanbadejo’s prognostication, saying, "I hope he’s right in his prediction, and I hope even more that it doesn’t take that long. People could look at this issue without blinders on... the blinders imposed by their church, their parents, their friends or, in our case, their coaches and locker rooms."
Added Fujita, "I wish they would realize that it’s not a religion issue. It’s not a government issue. It’s not even a gay/straight issue or a question of your manhood. It’s a human issue. And until more people see that, we’re stuck arguing with people who don’t have an argument."
New Yorkers for Marriage Equality recently added Bill Clinton to its ranks of celebrity supporters. During his presidency, Clinton signed the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage" Act in 1996, a federal law that denies gay and lesbian families any federal-level recognition or protections. In 2009, Clinton told Anderson Cooper that his position on marriage equality for same-sex couples had "evolved."
President Barack Obama, whose official position is that civil unions should be granted to same-sex families, but not marriage, said much the same thing to a group of bloggers last year, leading to speculation that Obama will endorse fully fledged marriage parity in 2012.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.