If you either did not watch the Miss USA pageant last night or missed the story covered in the news, there was some backlash to an answer on a question on gay marriage. Taking the brunt of the storm is Miss California, who came in second, as people were shouting in the hallways after the event demanding that she be stripped of her runner up title. Normally, I’d ignore a story like this because it reeks of fluff – a term my high school social studies teacher, the late Mr. Bob Swanson, used to describe items that were printed in newspapers but had no real value. However, times have changed and there are some important lessons to be learned here.
As the story goes, Carrie Prejean was asked how she felt about gay marriage by a gossip blogger named Perez Hilton. Prior to the story breaking, I knew very little about Perez Hilton other than some of the folks I follow on Twitter would converse back and forth with him. I now know that he’s an openly gay gossip blogger that has enough of a following that he’d be chosen to judge this type of competition. With that being said, I still know little about him as I’m not interested in celebrity gossip (and his sexual orientation is irrelevant to me).
My gut reaction is that this question was grossly inappropriate for the situation. Whether the person who wrote the questionhad an agenda behind it is debatable. I will say that it shows poor judgment to choose a hot button issue for a question in a pageant as it created a hostile situation. I would say the same thing if the question were how she felt about abortion, global warming, President Obama’s job performance or the tea parties that happened this past week — there is a time and a place for those types of questions. The woman is looking to be an ambassador of goodwill, not to run for elected office. So it’s unfair to question her like a political candidate – ask her how she’s going to help kids avoid drugs, do her part to end world hunger or raise awareness for cancer research. So I feel that whoever approved the question deserves the majority of the backlash for allowing such a question.
Ms. Prejean then went on and answered the question. Here’s what she said:
“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think 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.”
How she handled the question is also debatable. She obviously couldn’t fire back and say “that question is inappropriate” but since she was treated like a politician, she would have been best off answering like one. She started off with a fine statement, but then she made the mistake of taking a position on the issue. After having plenty of time to think about the way I would have answered (a luxury Ms. Prejean didn’t have) I would have answered it as follows:
“This country has gone through its challenges in the realm of civil rights since its birth. I think it’s great that people are discussing the subject, as long as both sides can do it in a civil way, because these types of debates are what make our country strong. And whether you’re for it or against it, I’m just glad that this is a discussion that can be had without violence.”
It’s tough enough to answer questions in front of a live audience when you have an inkling of what might be asked. When you’re thrown an off the wall question and you’re in front of a live TV audience competing for something that you’ve dreamed about for years, the stakes are exponentially higher. What bothers me the most about Carrie Prejean’s answer is the reaction it got afterwards – and one of the reasons I tell people to avoid this topic in particular. People have very strong emotions on each side, so choosing any side is a losing proposition. Even if she said she was for it and told a heartwarming story of someone who dealt with discrimination, she would have gotten a backlash from the other side. So she was in a no-win situation by giving her opinion. Had she given my answer, she may have been criticized for not answering the question – yet another reason why it was inappropriate to ask it — but would have avoided some of the resulting anger.
So my personal feeling is that Carrie Prejean should be given a break. She was asked an inappropriate question and gave an honest opinion. If she said that she was strongly for gay marriage and the backlash came from the other side, I would feel the same way. Whether you agree or disagree with someone’s opinion, is it fair to hate them because of that opinion?
After doing more research, I found that questions for these pageants are submitted and reviewed by the Miss USA organization ahead of time. As far as I’m concerned, Perez Hilton is completely off the hook for this one. However, he did say that he gave her a bad score because of her answer — which is a topic for another post.
What’s more troubling is the fact that the organization allowed a question like this to be submitted and asked, knowing that a truthful response is a losing situation for the contestant. The organization should have known better and there’s no excuse for it.