Despite pressure, Miss Calif. stays true to Christian beliefs
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LAS VEGAS (BP)--It had all the elements of good TV drama, especially in 2009 America: a gay celebrity blogger asking a California beauty queen contestant a question about "gay marriage" during the Miss USA pageant, hosted in anything-goes Las Vegas.
Miss California, though, stood by her Christian beliefs, and some are wondering if it cost her the crown.
Carrie Prejean, 21, told a nationwide TV audience Sunday she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. She eventually finished runner-up to Miss North Carolina, but she says she has no regrets about her answer.
The fact that Prejean is from California -- where the high court legalized "gay marriage" last year only to have voters reverse that ruling by passing Proposition 8 -- adds to the controversy surrounding her comments.
"By having to answer that question in front of a national audience, God was testing my character and faith," she told Fox News. "I'm glad I stayed true to myself."
She told NBC's "Today" show, "It's not about being politically correct. For me, it was being biblically correct." She added, regarding her missed opportunity to win the crown, "It wasn't what God wanted for my life that night."
Prejean is a student at San Diego Christian College in El Cajon just outside San Diego and a volunteer at Shadow Mountain Community Church's International Ministry Center, where she helps refugees learn English, the Christian Examiner reported. Shadow Mountain is a Southern Baptist church where popular TV and radio minister David Jeremiah is pastor. The Examiner reported Prejean is studying to become an elementary school special education teacher.
She has received a host of criticism and praise. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who is homosexual and as one of 12 judges was randomly picked to ask the question, posted a video on his website in which he called her a "dumb [expletive]" with "half a brain." He also said she "alienated so many people."
Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, applauded Prejean. He helped lead the effort in his area to get Christians behind Prop 8.
"She was extremely courageous, especially considering the venue. You're looking Perez Hilton in the eye and telling him, no offense, but this is what I believe. That is bold," Clark told Baptist Press. "That is exactly what we need more of, and she did it in a kind way and a very respectful way. She was great."
Mitch Fisk, vice president for enrollment and marketing at San Diego Christian College, said he was impressed by Prejean's character after overhearing a conversation she had with her adviser, whose office is just a few doors down from his. The conservation came last year after she had won the Miss California title.
"Keep in mind that this conversation took place with no one else around. The consistent themes were, 'I want to do what I can to have an impact' and 'I want to do what I can to take advantage of the situation that God has placed me in to have an impact,'" he told BP.
During the broadcast Hilton asked: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?"
Prejean responded, "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[-sex] marriage. 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 and ... I think that it should be between a man and a woman."
The crowd seemed to like her answer, and its applause was louder than the boos.
Keith Lewis, co-executive director of Miss California USA/Teen USA, submitted a statement to Hilton's website in which he said he was "personally saddened and hurt" that Prejean "believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman." Lewis added, "Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family."
Hilton himself was quoted as saying Prejean "lost because of that question." Known for his bombastic statements, he said that if Prejean had won, "I would have gone up on stage, snatched that tiara off her head and run out the door." As one of the 12 TV judges, Hilton's score figured into deciding who won. The scores on the questions and answers, though, are not released publicly.
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com -- the official campaign behind Prop 8 -- released a statement thanking Prejean for "speaking her mind in support of traditional marriage."
"She represented the silent majority in America and expressed a point of view that over 7 million California voters also expressed just last November," Prentice said. "... Thank you, Miss California, for knowing the truth about marriage and standing up for it, even when you knew that your honest answer may hinder your chances for the crown of Miss USA."
Prentice further said that the "outcry from some activists in the gay community over Ms. Prejean's comments are indicative of how far they will go to force their same-sex marriage agenda on society."
Prejean told radio host Billy Bush that her sister "is a gay rights activist" who has "been to many, many rallies." But Prejean said her sister was proud of her because she stood up for her beliefs. Matt Lauer of NBC's Today show asked her if she wished she had given a more politically correct middle-of-the-road answer, which Hilton said she should have done.
"That goes against what I stand for," she said of such an answer. "And when I'm asked a specific question, I'm going to give a specific answer. I'm not going to stand in the middle."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.