I have not watched a beauty pageant since I was around 7 years-old, when the Miss America Pageant was 1970s “must see T.V.” I certainly do not plan to start watching pageants now. Since it was all over the news this morning, I can’t help but laud Miss U.S.A. contestant, Carrie Prejean, a.k.a. Miss California, who, when asked by pageant judge Perez Hilton, whether she thought every state should follow Vermont and the three other states that have given legal recognition to same-sex marriage, responded: "Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offence to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you."
It was not enough to ask a baiting question and accept the answer given, Mr. Perez, who is a well-known and very vocal advocate for same-sex marriage, lambasted Prejean after the contest, saying that her answer was "the worst answer in pageant history." Why? One can only surmise that it is because she neither came out in favour of same-sex marriage, nor did she choose to be "diplomatic" and avoid answering the question directly. Isn’t this a bit like seating a V.P. of Citibank as a pageant judge and her asking contestants what they thought about Hank Paulson’s TARP legislation? In fact, it was a question about bank bailouts that Prejean’s competitor, Kristin Dalton, Miss North Carolina, who went on to be named Miss U.S.A., was asked, but not by a bank vice-president.
Being a generous man, Mr. Hilton went so far, after the pageant, to suggest an answer he would not have found offensive: "Perez, that’s a great question and that’s a very hot topic in our country right now. I think it’s a question that each state should answer for themselves because that’s our forefathers designed our government. The states rule themselves and then there are certain laws that are federal." Looking back at Carrie Prejean’s answer, I think she did state what Hilton suggested as regards what it means to live in a constitutional democracy, like the U.S. Her apparent misstep was answering his question in its entirety, a question that asked what she thought about the matter.
It is also important to note that her opinion is the opinion of a majority of Californians who went to the polls last November and democratically rejected giving legal status to same sex marriage, thus popularly overturning an edict by the California Supreme Court. It may bear reminding Mr. Hilton that the only state that recognizes same-sex marriage that has done so by anything like a democratic process (i.e., not by judicial fiat) is Vermont. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa it is something imposed by state supreme courts. Further, wherever same-sex marriage has appeared as a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, including California (and Utah), it has passed, the California vote being far and away the closest, though Colorado and Arizona passed marriage amendments with majorities of 55% and 56% respectively. I will concede that while Massachusetts began recognizing same-sex marriage as the result of a state Supreme Court ruling, subsequent attempts to amend the state constitution have been defeated in the legislature. New Jersey and New Hampshire both have civil partnership laws, like Vermont did prior to the recent vote to override the governor’s veto of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Sadly, Hilton was not able to limit himself to dismissing her answer with prejudice. Posting a video blog he went on to call her " dumb bitch." I would expect to see feminists take issue with a gay man calling a woman a dumb bitch, just as people did when Isiah Thomas, defending himself in a sexual harassment lawsuit, claimed that it was alright for an African American man to call an African American woman a bitch, but it was not alright for a white man. Just to be clear, it is not okay for a man of any colour or sexual orientation to conduct himself in such a reprehensible manner, especially under these circumstances, in which she was merely giving an honest answer to a question he asked!
It is true that her answer likely cost her title Miss U.S.A., but that is a small price to pay for maintaining her integrity. Perhaps Perez Hilton should just stick to asking himself questions, that way he’ll always get the answer for which is looking.
I think this event is very instructive regarding the current cultural circumstance in which we find ourselves. The question for us, attending to the totality of its factors, how do we live this reality, how do we give witness to Christ in this reality? Part of the answer lies in giving honest answers to questions, questions that are ultimately about meaning and purpose, our meaning and purpose, even in the face derision and hostility.
While I am at it, note to Janeane Garofalo: just as it was not inherently un-patriotic to criticize Pres. Bush, it is not inherently racist to criticize Pres. Obama.