Engaging Miss California with reality-based questions about equality

By pams
Monday, April 27, 2009 15:24 EDT
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I thought it was my last post on the topic — alas, no.

In my opinion it’s important to reach out to clearly uninformed people like Carrie Prejean, the young woman who represented Miss California and gave a mind-blowing, missed-the-current-events-boat answer about marriage equality on stage at the 2009 Miss USA Pageant.

Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or another. Um, we live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what? In my country and 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 that it should be – between a man and a woman. Thank you!”

Prejean’s nonsensical answer earned her a misguided free speech martyr badge by anti-gay forces of the religious right (along with CNN’s Roland Martin, a big mistake that blew up in his face). Exercising one’s free speech rights doesn’t mean you are free from criticism; Miss California’s answer was a big FAIL because it reflected ignorance of: 1) the status of marriage equality in the country, 2) the state she represents, since California actually removed the “choice” of gay couples to marry with Prop 8, and 3) the fact that how one was raised is not the arbiter of what is right and wrong.

Rex Wockner sat down with Prejean and asked her some pointed, but respectful questions in this interview to elicit more information about her point of view outside of a pop question at a pageant. He asked her whether she thinks people are born gay, and her answer does say a lot about her lack of exposure to actual gay people. My emphasis below:

Photo by David Kendal.

Carrie: I think it’s a behavior that develops over time.

Rex: Why would someone choose it, given that if you choose that, you get discriminated against?

Carrie: Um, because obviously Perez Hilton doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with it.

Rex: No, but if being gay is a choice, rather than something you’re born with, why would you choose something that’s going to lead to your being discriminated against? What would be the motivation?

Carrie: I’m not sure what the motivation would be.

Rex: OK. Me either.

To me this is an opportunity for movement with her (and many like her) on this issue. If she’s not sure why someone would willingly put themselves in a position to be vilified and discriminated against, she hasn’t thought much about it. Even Prejean finds the concept irreconcilable with the view that being gay is a choice.

This makes it obvious that she doesn’t have close friends who are gay or lesbian and in committed relationships back home. Same-sex couples simply want all the legal rights that Prejean would have if and when she chooses to marry sometime down the road. That they could decide to marry someone of the opposite sex (something always tossed out by the right), would not change the fact that who we partner with is about who we love — and the desire to nurture and legally protect that relationship — not about coddling the anti-gays by closeting one’s self in a heterosexual fraud marriage, or submitting to “reparative therapy.” That involves more heartache, psychological damage and pain to the future straight spouse. That’s been shown over and over. I find it hard to believe that with ongoing conversation, Prejean not begin to see things differently. That’s something we also have seen over and over.

I don’t think Carrie Prejean is a spiteful and hateful person — clearly she hasn’t given this issue much thought outside her social circle, and quite frankly, doesn’t have to. She could have remained in her bubble of ill-informed views, but now, due to her high-profile, she is no doubt going to engage with many who have a different worldview, and hopefully people who can explore this in civil conversation. Perez Hilton’s hostility after the interview has given license to the Right to hide behind the rancor as a defense. More encounters like the one with Rex Wockner will challenge Miss California in a positive manner to think more deeply about what discrimination really means.

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