Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Miss California/Perez Hilton

You've all seen the video of Miss California at the Miss America competition expressing her belief that marriage should be between "a man and a woman," much to the visible chagrin of the gay judge, Perez Hilton. Many people have written in defense of Miss California, saying that she should not be "persecuted" for her views about gay marriage, views which many people in California and elsewhere also share. Fair enough. However, it seems that most people who are ready to offer their comments on the exchange between Miss California and Perez Hilton haven't paid attention to the question she was actually asked and to the answer she actually gave. Here is my transcript of the exchange:

Perez Hilton: Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage [crowd cheers]. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?

Miss California: Why I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. Um, we live in a land that 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 [crowd cheers]. But that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you.

First of all, and not to put too fine a point on it, Miss California was not asked whether she supports gay marriage or not. She was asked whether other states should legalize same-sex marriage. There are many ways she could have answered that question without making her own views public. She didn't want to offend anybody, and she could have done so, if she said, for example, that that question is a political question and should be left to each state to decide. Period.

Second, her answer suggests that she has no strong view about the issue. First she says that it is a "great" thing that gays can marry each other in America. Then she offers her now famous opinion that she believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Those two statements aren't necessarily contradictory. She may not support same-sex marriage, but she doesn't wish to condemn Vermont and the other three states for legalizing it either. In any case, she seemed to fail to fully register the fact that she was being asked a political question and that she should have responded accordingly. She only realized this after she had put forth her opinion, but by then it was too late. Many people "out there" were already offended and that offense wasn't remedied by the words "no offense to anybody." Her answer would have been better received if she didn't refer to her audience as people "out there" and to the source of her beliefs as "my country...my family."

A little bit of sympathy for persons like Perez (who was after all a judge in the competition) would have gone a long way. And that's why she lost.

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