Monday, April 27, 2009

Miss USA and the "B" Word

by Emma Ruby-Sachs - Huffington Post

In the Miss USA contest, Perez Hilton, celebrity blogger extraordinaire, asked Miss California what she thought about gay marriage. Her answer, supporting "opposite marriage," earned her both cheers and boos from the crowd and likely cost her the Miss USA crown.

It also spurred a video response from Hilton calling Miss California a dumb b****.

Hilton apologized for using the b-word, then retracted his apology and now even the BBC is covering the newest tensions surrounding gay marriage in America.

But no one is talking about the b-word that should be used to describe Miss California: bigot.

A bigot is one who is (according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary) "obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices ; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."

To take a state institution like marriage and quarantine it from same-sex couples despite the complete lack of evidence that such a restriction is rational or in the best interests of the citizens of the state is intolerance.

The basis for the marriage restriction that many put forward (although Miss America didn't even have the wherewithal to go this far) is that gay marriage constitutes a threat to religious freedom. However, no equal rights initiative has contemplated ordering religious institutions to recognize same-sex couples.

Unfortunately, Miss America is not the only bigot in America's public life.

We could list a large number of Republicans, Rudy Giuliani for one, and a number of Democrats.

Even President Obama holds the intolerant and bigoted view that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. Sure, he couches it with talk of equal rights under the law, but has, so far stood behind civil unions as an alternative to marriage - a plan that would create the same kind of separate but equal legal scheme rejected by Brown v. Board of Education.

Miss California, like many who share her take on the marriage issue, was careful to talk about her "opinion" and "beliefs" and the way she was raised as if this excused her intolerance. Barack Obama talks about tradition and belief as well in defense of his own position.

But the fight for equality is not just an exercise in name-calling. And it is not a polite exchange between friends about what to eat for dinner. There is no room for preference or belief when it comes to legally enforceable discrimination that is imposed on the entire population

The unequal treatment of LGBT Americans creates real casualties and ongoing disastrous effects for many citizens. We don't want to re-insert Perez Hilton's chosen b-word back into accepted public discourse, but we must begin to call the opposition to equality what it is: bigotry.

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