Miss California finds her new cause

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Miss California may have lost a pageant, but she’s not sorry. She has won a cause.

Carrie Prejean’s politically incorrect response to a question about same-sex marriage may have cost her the Miss USA crown, but apparently it’s going to take more than a few insults from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton to change her mind.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened, but it’s become such a blessing,” Miss Prejean said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Washington Times. “I’m glad I didn’t win that pageant, because I now have a cause, I now have a purpose and I’m going to pursue it.”

Not only is Miss Prejean refusing to apologize, explain her answer or even stay out of the spotlight, but she’s unabashedly promoting traditional marriage in post-pageant appearances, including later this week in Washington and in Lynchburg, Va.

In doing so, she’s become an inspiration to conservative Christians, especially those in California, who are reluctant to speak out on behalf of traditional marriage in the face of shifting cultural mores, said Miles McPherson, her pastor at the San Diego-based Rock Church.

“Every week, we tell our congregation to do something bold, and here she did it on the biggest stage in the world,” said Mr. McPherson, a former San Diego Chargers football player who founded the evangelical megachurch. “It’s about standing up for faith in the face of persecution. A lot of people are intimidated about saying what they believe because it’s not politically correct.”

Last week in New York, he said, dozens of people went out of their way to thank Miss Prejean for taking her stance. “People left and right kept coming up to her, telling her how much they appreciated what she said,” Mr. McPherson said. “It was overwhelming.”

Indeed, her statement on behalf of traditional marriage and the response she received from Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr. - the openly gay blogger better known as Perez Hilton - may represent a turning point in the marriage debate, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

“I think it was a very significant event. It’s just the Miss USA pageant, but it could be a turning point in the cultural battle that’s being waged,” he said. “People have rallied around Carrie and said, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

Miss Prejean, 21, was considered the front-runner in the April 20 Miss USA Pageant when Mr. Lavandeira, a pageant judge, asked her to weigh in on same-sex marriage.

She said, “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. 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 anyone out there - but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be, between a man and a woman.”

Miss North Carolina Kristen Dalton won the crown; Miss Prejean came in second. Within hours of the pageant, Mr. Lavandeira posted a video online in which he blasted Miss Prejean, saying the “awful, awful answer that alienated a lot of people” had cost her the crown.

“She lost not because she doesn’t believe in gay marriage. She lost because she’s a dumb [expletive],” Mr. Lavandeira said in one of many vulgarity-laced tirades. Mr. Lavandeira also said Miss Prejean was booed by the audience, although in video clips the crowd can be heard interrupting her answer with cheers.

Some of the response was an online backlash against Mr. Lavandeira and in favor of Miss Prejean. Even gay-rights groups have contacted her to apologize for his tirade, she said.

“I’ve received so much support,” Miss Prejean said. “I’ve received apologies from the gay community saying, ‘We’re so sorry for what Perez Hilton said.’ ”

What criticism she has received from gay-rights groups centers largely on the substance of her answer.

When she says, “You can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage,” she’s wrong, said Kelley Moran, national director of Yes on Gay Marriage in Sacramento, Calif. “She stated that we can choose same-sex marriage, and in fact we do not have that right.”

While she has “the right to her opinion,” Mr. Moran said, Miss Prejean is “definitely out of step with the majority in her age group.”

“The culture is moving toward gay marriage, and it’s just a matter of time if you look at polling in the different age groups in our society,” he said.

Most polls show that more than 60 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, while a majority of those younger than 25 support it. Four states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont - have legalized same-sex marriage, while 30, including California, have passed state constitutional amendments that define marriage as a union of one man and one woman and 14 more define marriage that way by statute.

Despite public support, Miss Prejean said, officials at the Miss California pageant have all but abandoned her after she refused to apologize to advocates of same-sex marriage.

Miss Prejean told worshippers Sunday at the Rock Church that pageant organizers told her that “you need to apologize to the gay community. You need to not talk about your faith. This has everything to do with you representing California and saving the brand.”

But, she told the church, her answer on gay marriage “was representing California. I was representing the majority of people in California.”

She received a standing ovation from the congregation, Mr. McPherson said.

Efforts to leave messages at K2 Productions, which runs the Miss California pageant, were unsuccessful because the company’s mailbox was full.

But Keith Lewis, K2’s co-executive director, said in a statement that “I support Carrie’s right to express her personal beliefs even if they do not coincide with my own. I believe the subject of gay marriage deserves a great deal more conversation in order to heal the divide it has created.”

Miss Prejean has since signed with an independent public relations firm, A. Larry Ross Communications, which specializes in religious clients and “Christian-focused communications.” This week, she is making at least two appearances related to promoting traditional marriage.

On Wednesday, she is scheduled to visit Liberty University, a Baptist college in Lynchburg, for a question-and-answer session with the chancellor. She follows that with an appearance at the National Press Club on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage during an announcement for the launch of a traditional-marriage ad campaign.

“What we need are people who are willing to stand up and have a spine, and she does,” said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage. “A lot of people like Perez Hilton want to punish us, and she refuses to be cowed.”

Miss Prejean, who told The Times she was “appalled” by Mr. Lavandeira’s remarks, called on him to show the same respect for her views that he demands for his own.

“People ask me, ‘Are you the new spokeswoman for traditional marriage?’ ” she said. “All I know is that I gave an answer and I was marked down for it. I was ridiculed, and I was called names. It’s all about tolerance. I need to be tolerant of Perez Hilton, and he needs to be tolerant of my beliefs.”

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