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Lambda Legal urges NFL player to rethink gay defamation claim

An NFL player’s gay-defamation lawsuit has prompted Lambda Legal to urge the athlete to reconsider his claim.

Lambda Legal sent an open letter to Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli and his attorney, challenging his claims that reports posted on blogs about his alleged relationship with another man were defamatory.

"Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful – not in life nor under the law," said Beth Littrell, staff attorney at Lambda Legal.

"At its core, defamation is about disgrace. Recognition of this defamation claim would demean gay men and lesbians by giving credence to antigay biases that Georgia law rejects," she said.

"Regardless of Mr. Mughelli's attorney's complaints about assertions of her client's actual sexual orientation, or who he may or may not have slept with, for Lambda Legal, this is about clarifying the law on defamation and asserting the dignity of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual."

Mughelli signed a six-year, $18 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus in 2007 with the Falcons. At the time, the contract was the largest given to a fullback in NFL history.

Last month, Mughelli's attorney sent cease-and-desist letters to several websites that published the allegations of a man who claims to have had a sexual relationship with Mughelli.

In the letter to Phaedra Parks, Mughelli's attorney, Lambda Legal notes that "under the law of Georgia (like other states) it is not defamatory to describe a person as gay, lesbian or bisexual – nor is it defamatory to claim that someone has had a consensual, intimate, adult relationship with someone of the same sex. Moreover, to claim that someone falsely described as gay is entitled to collect damages, demeans those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual."

In this letter and in recent litigation involving Howard K. Stern, Lambda Legal argues that this type of defamation claim, and its underlying premise, has a demeaning effect toward gay men and lesbians, similar to the effect caused by state sodomy laws before they were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, Lambda Legal's 2003 landmark victory. These claims, Lambda Legal says, are out of step with the law and public policy of Georgia and the rest of the United States.