Miss California’s country

First published at Between the Lines News on April 30, 2009

So a contestant for what is in large measure a popularity contest says something unpopular and doesn’t win. Why am I having a hard time getting worked up over this?

I’m talking about Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, who when asked by Miss USA judge and gay celebrity blogger Perez Hilton whether she supports same-sex marriage, cheerfully and politely said no (or something like it—her answer wasn’t terribly clear). Specifically, she said,

“Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you very much.”

Not the most articulate answer (what’s “opposite marriage”?), nor the most original (“that’s how I was raised”). But I give her credit for grace under pressure, and for owning up to her convictions knowing that they might cost her the crown.

That doesn’t mean that her answer was in any way acceptable. Her answer was wrong—badly, painfully wrong.

But disagreeing with her answer doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging and admiring her integrity. Generally speaking, I prefer people saying what they believe—even if I disagree sharply—rather than merely what they think others want to hear. It’s a trait desirable in both friends and foes.

No one knows for sure whether she would have won with a different answer. But her 15 minutes of fame are stretching into 45 (at least) thanks to the predictable backlash.

Perez Hilton, demonstrating the gravitas, nobility, and calm judicial temperament that doubtless explains his selection as a pageant judge, promptly thereafter called her a “dumb bitch.”

This in turn prompted right-wing cries of victimhood. Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage (which released the laughable “Gathering Storm” ad) described Hilton as “the new face for gay marriage in this country.” Gary Schneeberger, vice president of Focus on the Family, wrote in the New York Times,

“What has happened to Miss Prejean over the past few days is nothing short of religious persecution. No, it is not violent persecution — but that does not minimize its existence or its danger.”

Religious persecution? Because Perez Hilton is calling her nasty names? Oh, gag me with a tiara.

Perez Hilton is a gossip blogger known mainly for posting celebrity pictures and then adding juvenile scribbles to them. (His favorite embellishment seems to be ejaculate dripping from people’s mouths.) It’s not for nothing that his nom de plume resembles that of someone else who is famous just for being famous. Being obnoxious is what he does for a living.

So it’s no surprise that the religious right latched on to him. They’ve got nothing plausible to say in response to the serious marriage-equality advocates, so they make Hilton the face for the movement and then complain about what a nasty movement it is. Their intellectual dishonesty in doing so eclipses whatever integrity I admired in Miss Prejean.

Why, for example, didn’t they cite the letter to Prejean from Geoff Kors at Equality California, a letter which seeks “open, honest dialogue”? Let me guess: it’s because gracious letters from true movement leaders don’t support their victim narrative.

Even Gallagher concedes, “I don’t believe the response—hatred, ridicule, name-calling—by Perez Hilton is supported by most gay people or by most gay marriage supporters.”

But then she backtracks by adding, “But, sadly, it is increasingly the visceral and public response of the gay marriage movement to anyone who disagrees with its views.”

Sorry, but Perez Hilton’s blog is not the gay marriage movement. By Gallagher’s own admission, it is not even representative of the gay marriage movement. It’s a straw man, which is about the best that they can hope to knock down anymore.