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Seahawks LB Ben Burr-Kirven: "It's A Very Silly Thing To Get Worked Up About Who Other People Love"

Seahawks linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven reflects on how growing up with two moms shaped him, and what it’s like seeing couples like his parents still having to fight for basic human rights.

(Photo courtesy University of Washington Athletics)
(Photo courtesy University of Washington Athletics)

The questions were more out of curiosity than malicious intent.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Ben Burr-Kirven and his older brother, Carter, might get asked by a classmate or teammate where their dad was. Or if the woman picking them up from practice—not the same mom those teammates had seen before—was their stepmom.

But aside from those little moments, growing up in a home with two moms was anything but unusual for the Burr-Kirven brothers.

"I never thought it was weird or anything like that," said Ben Burr-Kirven, who is heading into his fourth season with the Seahawks. "There were things when we were little—I remember my brother would get asked, 'Where's your dad?' They didn't understand that, yes there's a biological dad, but the way we were raised, we had two moms as parents."

"As I got older, I remember in Pop Warner explaining to guys—my moms would pick me up at practice, and trying to explain that neither is a stepmom, they're both my moms. It was over and over, I'd have to explain, 'She's not a stepmom, my parents aren't divorced. They're my moms, they're married. It's just been that way forever.' But everyone was pretty accepting. I was lucky that I grew up in the Bay Area. There was definitely confusion, but no one was ever really outright homophobic. People just didn't get it."

Living in a very liberal part of the country, being raised in a household with two moms didn't seem particularly noteworthy to Burr-Kirven, which is why he says, coming from a place of love, "If you met my parents, they're the most normal, boring suburban moms you could ever meet."

Yet for as normal and boring Burr-Kirven's upbringing might have felt to him, his story as an NFL player raised by a gay couple is not an unimportant one. In a time when states around the country are trying, and in many cases succeeding, to pass laws that harm transgender people; and that hinder the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children; and that subject teachers and schools to legal action if they were to have a discussion with kids about a family like Burr-Kirven's; and when, on Friday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, after the court overturned Roe v. Wade, that the court should also revisit cases that protect LGBTQ rights, including Obergefell v. Hodges, which in 2015 guaranteed the right to marry to same-sex couples, having an NFL player normalize an upbringing in a two-mom household absolutely matters.

Burr-Kirven's moms, Mary Lea Kirven and Busy Burr, have been together for nearly 40 years and raised Ben and Carter in Menlo Park, California, though the boys also grew up having a close relationship with their biological father and his husband, who live in nearby San Francisco, and who have been friends with Mary Lea and Busy since graduate school.

But even a Bay Area upbringing with "boring suburban moms" couldn't shield Burr-Kirven completely from the prejudice and hatred LGBTQ people continue to face to this day. It was in 2008 that California voters passed Proposition 8, meaning more than 7 million people voted to ban same-sex marriages. It was at 11 years old that Burr-Kirven came to understand through political ads on TV and through stickers on cars, and eventually, through a vote that saw 52.2 percent of voters choose to strip away his parents' rights, that a large portion of the population didn't accept his moms' marriage. That decision was overturned in the courts not long after, and by 2015, same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states, but that experience in 2008 stuck with Burr-Kirven.

"You were seeing people vote yes or no if my parents could be married," he said. "… It was interesting watching that as a kid. You grow up in the Bay Area and you think everyone's on board, but then all of a sudden you see cars with stickers that say, 'Yes on 8,' and it's like, 'Oh, there's actually a fair number of people here who don't want my parents to be married.'"

Burr-Kirven and his brother can't say how being raised by two moms might have affected them any differently than if they had grown up in a household with a mother and a father, even if others might perceive a difference, because their childhood was the only one they knew, but Ben certainly didn't see any downside to it.

"Obviously there's no way for me to really know how it would have been different if I would have had a traditional mother-father kind of set up," he said. "But I never noticed anything different about how they were raising us versus how my friends' parents were raising them. My brother and I ended up being very different people… It never was a thing where I felt like it shaped us in any way that was different than our friends."

And Burr-Kirven also sees some unique upside in having two moms.

"I definitely think being raised by two women, you're going to have a different understanding and respect for women," he said. "A lot of guys have their mom and dad, and they have different household roles and things like that, but for my moms, it was just two people raising you."

As unremarkable as Burr-Kirven's childhood might have felt to him, his story is not an insignificant one, not when, 14 years after Californians voted to take away his moms' right to marry, states continue to attack the rights of LGBTQ people.

Burr-Kirven wryly noted that, "You probably couldn't print," his reaction to some of the anti-LGBTQ laws being passed in recent months, then went on to add, "It's just silly. Why avoid it discussing different kinds of families. Obviously, a significant part of the population ends up being gay. Unless you're living an absolutely sheltered life, you're not going to go through life without meeting gay people."

And no, in an ideal world it wouldn't be headline-making news in 2022 that Colorado State tight end Trey McBride, a second-round pick of the Cardinals this year, was—incorrectly as it turns out—labeled the first NFL player who has same-sex parents. But if McBride or Burr-Kirven can serve as a beacon to kids anywhere who might face prejudice about their upbringing in a same-sex household, or if their success can convince even one person that two moms or two dads can raise successful, well-adjusted kids just as well as—and quite often better than—a straight couple, then their willingness to share their stories carries plenty of significance.

"At the end of the day," Burr-Kirven said, "it's a very, very silly thing to get worked up about who other people love."

The Seahawks, along with other Seattle sports teams, came together to participate in the Seattle Pride Parade in downtown Seattle on June 26, 2022.

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