May 13, 2009
NEW YORK (BP) -- Capping a three-week media and blogosphere firestorm, Donald Trump let Carrie Prejean maintain her role as Miss California USA, saying Tuesday the 21-year-old has taken "a tremendous amount of abuse" following her publicly stated opposition to "gay marriage."
"You should be ashamed of yourselves," Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe organization, told the news media during a press conference.
Officials with the Miss California USA pageant said Prejean was in danger of losing her title because of what they said were violations of her contract, including her appearing at her church and in a National Organization for Marriage press conference and ad opposing "gay marriage." A racy but non-nude picture of her taken at age 17 also surfaced, which Miss California officials said should have been disclosed before she entered the pageant.
Her supporters, though, said she indeed was being targeted for her views, with some of her backers calling it a "character assassination." What happened to Prejean, they warned, will happen to all opponents of "gay marriage" if it is legalized.
Trump, in fact, used much of Tuesday's press conference defending Prejean. He and Prejean each noted that her position was also the stated position of President Obama. Trump said she "gave a very, very honest answer when asked a very tough question."
"It's the same answer that many people give," Trump said. "… She gave an honorable answer. She gave an answer from her heart, and I think for that she has to be commended."
The co-executive directors of the Miss California pageant had been highly critical of Prejean's partnership with the National Organization for Marriage, saying that in the history of the pageant no title holder had so "readily committed her face and voice to a more divisive or polarizing issue." Ironically, one of those co-executive directors, former Playboy model Shanna Moakler, has since been featured in a pro-"gay marriage" ad calling for the overturning of California Proposition 8.
Prejean, speaking at the press conference, defended her comments by citing her grandfather, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II but rarely spoke about his war heroics.
"But he did speak about the freedoms he fought for, and [he] taught me to never back down and never let anyone take those freedoms away from you," she said, tears in her eyes. "On April 19, on that stage, I exercised my freedom of speech, and I was punished for doing so. This should not happen in America. It undermines the constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for."
Moakler and the other co-executive director, Keith Lewis, also appeared at the press conference, and Trump said Prejean and the Miss California officials were getting along fine now and were working together. Prejean said she was looking forward to continuing her responsibilities as Miss California. She hugged Moakler and Lewis after the press conference.
Prejean, who spoke for about 10 minutes, said she wanted to "address the hateful attacks, despicable rumors and false allegations" against her. She also thanked the thousands of people who had contacted her, giving their support.
"Being at the center of a media firestorm is not something I had planned or signed up for," she said. "But the days since have taught me to stand up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences, personal attacks or disagreements.... I hope I have inspired others to maintain compassion, civility, respect and tolerance while staying true to your convictions, and to never, ever compromise your beliefs."
She thanked God "for giving me the strength to stand by my beliefs" and said her faith "commands us to forgive one another." She said she had forgiven those who had criticized her. She said she was not an activist but instead an advocate "for the importance of not redefining marriage."
"I hope at the end of the day, everyone can respect my rights as I respect theirs, and together we can bring back civility back to our social and cultural discussion," she said.
The controversy began April 19, when Prejean was asked during the Miss USA pageant whether she believed other states should follow Vermont's lead in legalizing "gay marriage." A student at San Diego Christian College in El Cajon who attends The Rock Church in San Diego, Prejean responded by saying "marriage should be between a man and a woman." She finished first runner-up, with some observers saying the answer cost her the crown.
The judge who asked the question, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, posted a video on his website saying Prejean lost because she was a "dumb [expletive]." A second judge, Las Vegas entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs, wrote on her blog that Prejean "made the mistake of not knowing when to shut her mouth." MSNBC anchor David Shuster piled on, writing on his Twitter account of Hilton, "I think his assessment of Miss [California] USA's logic was accurate." Giuliana Rancic, a news anchor on E! Television, wrote on her Twitter account regarding Prejean, "she is an ignorant discrace [sic] and she makes me sick to my stomach."
News about a past cosmetic surgery and even Prejean's parents' divorce leaked onto blogs and soon surfaced in mainstream news. Some outlets theorized that her parents' broken relations somehow led to her beliefs.
Conservative leaders, though, came to her defense. She appeared on Focus on the Family's broadcast May 11 and 12, telling the story of why she stood for her beliefs.
"The way she responded [at the pageant] showed she was willing to put her belief in traditional marriage and her moral principles above her longstanding desire to win the Miss USA title," Focus on the Family's James Dobson said. "Carrie is deeply committed to Jesus Christ and is paying a high price for her faith."
Dobson said Focus on the Family's purpose in the broadcast was not "to debate the merits of beauty pageants or the swimsuit competition or the profession of modeling" but instead to know the behind-the-scenes story of Prejean's bold stance.
National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez and the Claremont Institute's Seth Leibsohn co-wrote a column in which they expressed concern over her "support system" and some of her modeling choices but also over how she has been treated because of her stance.
"Watch carefully," they wrote in an article posted on NationalReview.com. "This is what happens when people take a position against gay marriage -- a view that the majority of the population supports, according to a new CNN poll.... [N]ote what the movement of tolerance does when you simply exercise your rights to free speech, taking a position they disagree with. They go personal. They go for the jugular. They try to embarrass and humiliate you. They will stop at nothing not only to discredit but absolutely destroy you."
The National Organization for Marriage's Maggie Gallagher said, "Of course Carrie is not perfect. On a personal note, as a former unwed mother, I want to say to Americans: you don't have to be a perfect person to have the right to stand up for marriage."
Prejean appeared on NBC's "Today" show two days after the competition and was asked if she would have answered the question differently if given the chance.
"It's not about being politically correct," she said. "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."
In recent days Prejean has expressed regret over having taken the photo as a 17-year-old. Hours before Trump made his decision, even more racier photos of Prejean surfaced on an Internet blog. Prejean said at the press conference that the pictures were part of a photo shoot and that the photographer did not have authorization to release them. She called the pictures "inappropriate" and said the photographer "had violated" her trust. The pictures, she said, had been taken between poses. One picture from that photo shoot had previously been released and was published in Bliss magazine.
Copyright 2009 Baptist Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.