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Leaders of Minnesota for Marriage, the group pushing for the constitutional ban, have said they’re not trying to keep loving couples apart. Instead, they say they want the strongest possible legal protection for what they call traditional marriage, between a man and a woman.

Some high-profile athletes have taken their side: Matt Birk, a center for the Baltimore Ravens and formerly the Minnesota Vikings, wrote a newspaper op-ed and appeared in an online advertisement in favor of the ban.

Augustus is free to love anyone she wants, but she doesn’t have the right to force same-sex marriage on all Minnesotans without a vote,” said Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage.

Augustus credits the happiness she’s found with Varner for the fact that she’s playing the best basketball of her life. The Lynx missed the playoffs in Augustus‘ first five seasons and she also had a serious knee injury and a scary bout with tumors in her abdomen in 2010. Varner was there to help her through both rehabilitations, and Augustus has rebounded with a vengeance.

She averaged 22 points a game in the playoffs last season to lead the Lynx to the franchise’s first title, then won gold in London this summer before helping Minnesota reach the WNBA finals for a second straight year.

“No way. It’s totally coincidence,” Augustus said, playfully nudging Varner. “When you find happiness outside of basketball, when your personal life is intact, of course your career is going to fall into place and it has been like that for me.

“Everything at home has been wonderful and now everything on the basketball side is there. And the great thing about it is she’s been there with me. She was here when the Lynx were 0-10 (in 2007) and she was here when we went on that championship run.”

Augustus‘ decision to take a more public role in advocating for gay rights is drawing some applause from an athletic scene that has never been particularly welcoming to gay athletes. No active male athlete in the four major pro sports — football, baseball, basketball or hockey — has come out publicly as gay, according to the gay-oriented sports website Outsports.com.

“I think it’s awesome because it shows that she’s comfortable being who she is and she feels she has the support and people won’t treat her differently just because of her sexuality,” said Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, a straight athlete who has been outspoken in his support of gay marriage. “It shouldn’t affect who you are on the basketball court or football field or even as a human being because of who you love. That’s not what makes you a person.”

Augustus is wearing one of Kluwe’s “Sparklepony” T-shirts — a phrase Kluwe used in an aggressive response to a Maryland state legislator’s efforts to quiet Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbedejo’s public support of gay marriage — during interviews at the WNBA Finals to raise awareness. Her teammates, coaches and the Lynx front office have fully supported Augustus‘ efforts.

“The easier route would be to stay closeted because it isn’t as accepted as we hope it would be,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I’m really proud of her for being out in the forefront.”

Augustus said she never once felt concerned about how her teammates and coaches would react, but acknowledged that would not be the case for any male athlete considering doing the same thing.

“For the most part, to be honest, everyone thinks that the WNBA is one big lesbo-party anyway,” Augustus said. “So the coming out process isn’t as tough for us because people are already expecting it.

“For the men’s side, because it’s like alpha male ego, for a guy to come out and be an active player, not a retired player, it would definitely blow up in the media spotlight.”

She calls the perception that the WNBA caters primarily to lesbians “baloney.”“It’s just hard to deal with at times because that’s all people talk about, not really the quality of basketball in this league and how we’ve grown,” Augustus said. “But when you go on blogs they talk about how masculine you look or how aggressive you look.”

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