(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Equality is more important than religion, Brendan Ayanbadejo, an NFL linebacker and outspoken advocate of gay rights, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich argued that the push for so-called equality has infringed upon religious freedom.
"People have to realize, even though it's your right to have religion ... you can't use that right of religion to take other people's rights away. Equality trumps all of them," Ayanbadejo said.
Ayanbadejo played for the Baltimore Ravens last season and is currently a free agent.
Ayanbadejo added that "we protect and we believe in religion," and implied that religious people just need to be educated in order for them to agree with his view of homosexuality.
"So, we just need to open up people's eyes and educate people a little more," he said.
Ayanbadejo also appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday as both shows were discussing the recent announcement by NBA basketball player Jason Collins that he is gay. Collins is the first active professional basketball player and only the second active player of any of the four major U.S. sports – basketball, football, baseball and hockey – to admit he is gay.
On "Face the Nation," Ayanbadejo said that religion and sports are the "two last closets in America."
"Once we get people to realize that you're born gay, and that gay people are disenfranchised, they don't have the same rights and benefits as everybody else, and yet, they're no different than everybody else, we can get past this unfortunate incident that's going on in our country every day," Ayanbadejo said.
On "Meet the Press," Gingrich, who ran for president in 2012, countered that the push for gay rights is one-sided in its desire for rights because it has led to the infringement of religious freedom. In Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, Gingrich noted, the Catholic Church has been forced to stop providing adoption services because it will not place adoptees in the homes of same-sex couples.
"This passing reference to religion, we sort of respect religion. Sure, as long as you don't practice it," Gingrich remarked.
Gingrich explained that he would like to see more of a debate over what gay rights will mean for those institutions that believe homosexual behavior is immoral.
"Does it mean you have to affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept that, and therefore you are now going to have a secular state now say to a wide range of religious groups – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, [and], frankly, Muslims – you cannot practice your religion the way you believe it and we will outlaw your institutions?" Gingrich asked.
"Meet the Press" host David Gregory seemed unfamiliar with controversy over the Catholic Church and adoptions services.
"Which prohibitions are you speaking of?" Gregory asked with a confused look.
"Let's just start with adoption services," Gingrich responded. "It's impossible for the Catholic Church to have adoption services in Massachusetts that follows Catholic doctrine."
Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of TheGrio.com, supported the view that Gingrich was criticizing, namely that religious freedom should only protect religious belief, not religious practice. The Catholic Church withdrew adoption services from Massachusetts voluntarily after it was told it could not discriminate against same-sex couples, Reid responded to Gingrich.
"I think the point is that you don't have the state telling religions what to believe. People, if they oppose the idea of gay marriage within their religion, have an absolute right to do so, the question is whether or not religious institutions can make public policy, whether they can enter the public policy sphere," she said.