Sunday, 19 July 2009

Standing with Carrie



For the past couple of months, I've been following the story of Carrie Prejean. For those unfamiliar with Miss Prejean, she was Miss California 2009 and runner-up as Miss USA 2009. She could well have won Miss USA, were it not for one of the judges, Perez Hilton, asking her if she believed every US state should legalize same-sex marriage.

Her answer:
Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.

Clearly Miss Prejean was on a hiding to nothing whichever way she answered Hilton's question. Her words attracted an instantaneous backlash, further fuelled by Hilton posting a video on his website referring to her as a "dumb bitch".

Subsequently, semi-nude photos of Miss Prejean appeared online and the organizers of Miss California investigated it as a potential contractual breach until Miss USA owner Donald Trump stepped in. However, last month a dispute between the company which produces Miss California and Miss Prejean led to her being stripped of the title.

I'm not proposing to comment on this latter dispute - unless it goes to court it's just going to remain a case of "he said, she said" - but I did want to write something about why I support her, something which might surprise many people who know me. There are two issues to address, the treatment Miss Prejean has received for her comments and the substance of those comments.

Regardless of my personal opinion on same-sex marriage (which I will come to), the level of vitriol aimed at Miss Prejean is quite shocking. She was asked a straight question and gave an honest answer based on her upbringing and beliefs. She didn't stand on stage screaming that gays would burn in hell or anything like that, she simply said without any hint of hatred or malice that she believed marriage was something that should be between a man and a woman. However she's been portrayed as a homophobe and gay-basher, particularly here in the blogosphere, shrill charges that lack any evidentiary basis.

While I'm all for challenging the opinons of those one disagrees with, those who seek to advance LGBT rights are diminished when they resort to abuse in lieu of debate, a fact recognised by A. Latham Staples, executive director of LGBT civil rights group the Empowering Spirits Foundation:

Demeaning Carrie Prejean or others by using terms such as bigot will not advance our cause of civil rights and social justice. The LGBT community must use this period of heightened attention on LGBT issues by engaging others in positive ways.

Incidentally, it's also worth mentioning that the voters of the state of California voted last November to ban same-sex marriage, so it's not as if she was out of touch with popular opinion.

On the substantive issue of same-sex marriage, I think it's important that a distinction should be made between marriage as a civil institution and marriage as a religious one. There has been some kind of marriage since the earliest days of human civilisation and society has placed value on and/or attributed benefits to the institution ever since and while religion has often been a driving force behind this, there's nothing inherently religious in the concept of marriage. In fact it's probably true to say that the institution of marriage is a fundamentally secular one. The ancient Greeks and Romans didn't treat marriage as a religious institution, and for that matter, neither did early christians.

For Miss Prejean, marriage is both an act of civil and religious union, so she believes (because of her religious beliefs) that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. However, as her comments at Miss USA showed, she doesn't seek to impose her views on others. Let's look at her quote again:

Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.

This is important because she's basically saying that although she doesn't personally agree with same-sex marriage, she acknowledges (albeit incorrectly, legally-speaking) that Americans have the right to make their own choice whether or not to opt for same-sex marriage.

At this point I should lay my cards on the table. In 2007 I became a Noachide, a non-Jewish believer in Torah. Again this will surprise many people as most people have hitherto thought of me as an atheist. I may go into the reasons for my 'conversion' at another time as they're far from straightforward, but it's not necessary to do so now, though I'll happily address any questions put to me.

As a Noachide, I partially share Miss Prejean's views. Like her, I believe that marriage as a religious institution should only be between a man and a woman. That view is in keeping with Torah (and the bible), so it's the only tenable position for myself, fellow Noachides, Jews and Christians alike.

Where I disagree slightly with Miss Prejean is that I do support the existence of same-sex marriage as a civil institution in a secular state. As I said above, marriage is a secular union and one upon which society places great importance, so it's logical and perhaps even necessary that it exist in a secular state.

Non-secular institutions are contrary to a secular state because they impose religious views on people. The strength of a secular society is that it guarantees religious freedom. People are free to debate matters of faith and come to their own conclusions. True faith cannot be attained in any other way.

Anyway, I'm wandering off-topic here so I'll bring these ruminations to a close.

Carrie Prejean has been publically vilified for having the temerity to honestly share her beliefs and she has responded to this not in kind, but with as much good grace and maturity as she can muster given the unwanted burden on her young shoulders. That's why I'm standing with Carrie.

6 comments:

ES165 said...

Excellent post Dan.

I've always been a liberal and have not been particularly religious but this incident has made a significant difference in my life. I may not practice a particular religion any more than before, but I now appreciate the significance of moral principals and I see the kind of war that is being waged against religions by our increasingly hedonistic society.

Until I saw the treatment Carrie received, I had no opinion on gay-marriage, But I've read hundreds, maybe thousands of posts on this and I agree with you entirely.

Carrie was not suggesting that anyone should be force to follow her views. She did not say that she believed civil rights should be denied to anyone.

I also would not want to limit anyone's legal rights but I think the term marriage must stand as it has been defined for centuries. It identifies an altruistic union with the goal of bearing and rearing offspring to complete the most primary function in the healthy propagation of our species. It should stand to indicate to our children, as it has done in every civilized society, that there is a fundamentally important reason why male and female have joined since the beginning of time. Marriage is the term that has been used by every human society but you could also call it "Mother Nature's Survival Rule #1"

I think gays want to legitimize their purely hedonistic sexual relationships by having them included in the term marriage.

Christopher said...

I think gays want to legitimize their purely hedonistic sexual relationships by having them included in the term marriage.

I think you're basing your assumptions on the sort of relationships you believe homosexuals engage in rather than going by the facts. You seem to think marriage exists solely for the purpose of reproduction. If that's the case, should heterosexual married couples who choose not to have children or who can't have children be denied the right to call their union "marriage"?

As for Ms. Prejean, in her statement in the Miss Universe pageant she wasn't suggesting anyone go along with her views, but what's often ignored is the fact that she didn't understand the question. She was asked whether states should have the right to allow same-sex marriages.

I'm not defending Perez Hilton's atrocious and unnecessary insults, but, before letting Prejean off the hook, bear in mind that, following this kerfuffle, she did some work for the National Organization For Marriage--a group that seeks to limit the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

And finally, contrary to what she's claimed, Ms. Prejean was fired for violating her contract. Yes, she's a liar. That's not an insult. That's a statement of fact.

Anonymous said...

Yes I believe heterosexual couples that choose not to have children because it is purely inconvenient to their lifestyle are also making a mistake. Seem to me that is also hedonistic by definition. It seems a common-law relationship might be a better description of these relationships... and they get full legal status from what I understand. Maybe same-sex unions should come under the term common law???

Because of the increasingly self-serving nature of western society, birth rates are dropping while Muslim Immigration is on the rise. The next people to colonize North America will be Muslims and our descendants will live in an Islamic world. I'm not racist or very religious but it just demonstrates how nature works.

I believe people who do not have children have no reason to be concerned with future generations. Having offspring greatly effects ones concern for the future.

As I stated, I would not want to limit anyone's legal rights. My objection is the the destruction of the term marriage.

I believe in equal rights for everyone whether I agree with their life style of not.

So let's equate "marriage"="civil union". Would that not be equality or is there another reason for destroying the centuries old meaning marriage.

Dan Brusca said...

@ES165

"I think the term marriage must stand as it has been defined for centuries. It identifies an altruistic union with the goal of bearing and rearing offspring to complete the most primary function in the healthy propagation of our species."

It's not really that straightforward. The motivations for marriage have been different throughout the ages in different societies, with child-bearing more often being a by-product of marriage, rather than a reason for it.

Indeed, propagation of the species owes more to human biology and sexual desire than the social institution of marriage.

Dan Brusca said...

@Christopher

"As for Ms. Prejean, in her statement in the Miss Universe pageant she wasn't suggesting anyone go along with her views, but what's often ignored is the fact that she didn't understand the question. She was asked whether states should have the right to allow same-sex marriages."

I think that her understanding of the question is a rather moot point because one way or another, Hilton's intent was to ellicit Miss Prejean's views on same-sex marriage. Even if she did address the question exactly as phrased, she would still have found herself in the same invidious position.

As for the issue of contract violation, that's a thorny one. Not all of the facts are out there but I hope Miss Prejean's book sheds more light on the matter. It may well be that she violated her contract, but it may also be that she had compelling reasons to do so.

I don't believe Miss Prejean to be a liar, but even if she did lie about something, it doesn't negate her views on same-sex marriage. The accusation is made for no other reason than to attempt to discredit her and, by association, her opinions. It's a lazy way of avoiding debate.

Anonymous said...

There are two parts to the question. I'm sure the "why or why not" part is what caused Carrie to hesitate. That was a direct question of her personal opinion of gay marriage. The fact that it was Perez Hilton who asked the question and then sat their in all his perverted glory waiting for personal gratification, probably had something to do with her decision to cut with the BS and be honest.

Am I the only one who noticed that the female hosting the show asked Carrie if she was worried about the question before it was asked and then someone off camera replies "you should be".

Do you think their was some anticipation about Hilton's question???