By JON KRAWCZYNSKI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Seimone Augustus has always preferred to stay out of the public eye even as her basketball career has taken her to the heights of an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship.
With her adopted home state of Minnesota considering a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, the Lynx star is now becoming a vocal proponent of equal rights for gays.
After all, she has her own wedding coming up, to longtime girlfriend LaTaya Varner.
"I felt like it was the perfect time for me, being on a platform where I can make a change with my voice and my situation," Augustus told The Associated Press. "Maybe inspire someone else to come out and be comfortable with themselves. Or maybe someone else's parents will see my parents saying that it's OK to be with your child and love your child unconditionally regardless of your sexual preference."
Augustus came out to supportive parents when she was still in high school and has never hidden the fact that she's a lesbian. But it wasn't until she proposed to Varner on Miami Beach that she started feeling comfortable with the idea of taking things public.
"I told her it's a very huge step," Varner said. "Not everybody can do it. ... It's a major move when anybody can take those next steps."
Down 1-0 to Indiana in the best-of-five WNBA Finals, the Lynx are looking to become the league's first repeat champions in 10 years. Augustus also is fresh off a gold medal at the London Olympics, so she's hoping to take advantage of her increased national profile to help influence the vote.
Augustus and Varner plan to be married in May, and they have dreamed of a celebration at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Varner is doing most of the planning, aside from the dessert on the menu and the shoes on Augustus' feet.
"That's the only thing I want," Augustus said. "Red velvet cake and Chuck Taylors."
Regardless of what happens with the November vote, an official marriage in Minnesota almost certainly won't happen. State law already makes gay marriage illegal, and the couple has discussed traveling a few hours south to Iowa for the official exchanging of vows.
But a constitutional ban on gay marriage would signal to them that the dream of marriage equality in Varner's home state is nowhere near as close to a reality as they hoped.
"I just never understood why someone else's love life and who they love and who they choose to be with affects so many other people's lives," Augustus said. "Is it a scare of, 'Gay people are going to be running around and everyone's going to turn gay?'"
"I never understood the whole point of opposing or hating someone else's happiness."
Varner says she expects gay marriage will eventually be legal in the state, and a "No" vote victory in November would be a sign that times are changing.
"It's not just me and Seimone that are living our lives the way they are," she said. "There are so many other people besides someone who is in the limelight."
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.