(Related story and videos: Christian college student says answer to gay marriage question probably cost her the Miss USA crown)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Miss California USA Carrie Prejean may have her critics in Hollywood and the pageant industry, but she found a friendly crowd when the audience at the 40th annual Gospel Music Association Dove Awards gave her a standing ovation.
Prejean was runner-up in Miss USA Sunday, and some observers believe she lost the crown when she told the 12 judges and a nationwide TV audience that she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. She has received plenty of criticism but also lots of praise, and that continued at the Dove Awards.
Dove Awards officials didn't announce Prejean, 21, would be part of the program at the Grand Ole Opry House until the day before the event, and many in attendance apparently were caught off-guard when she was introduced. The applause that is normally given a presenter grew into a standing ovation for what the audience and other conservative Christians consider her courageous act. Prejean introduced the band MercyMe.
A student at San Diego Christian College who attends The Rock Church in San Diego, Prejean was asked during the pageant if "every state should follow" Vermont in legalizing "gay marriage."
She stumbled in her answer at first she later said she was debating at that moment whether to give a middle-of-the-road answer before saying, "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."
Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, the judge who asked the question, later called Prejean a "dumb [expletive]" with "half a brain." He also said she "lost because of that question." Hilton is homosexual.
Another judge, Las Vegas entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs, wrote a blistering anti-Prejean blog entry that received so much negative attention that it was later deleted. In the entry dubbed "Pretty is as pretty does" and still available via a Google cache said Prejean's answer "GREATLY affected me & the final score I gave [her]." Prejean, Jacobs said, "made the mistake of not knowing when to shut her mouth." Jacobs further said that, including Hilton, at least two of the judges were homosexual and that a third has a sister in a "gay marriage." Jacobs said she was "personally insulted & hurt."
"As she continued to speak, I saw the crown move further & further away from her," Jacobs wrote. She revealed how she voted on the final tally, which took place after the questioning round: "This was the moment where we had to assign that all-important final ranking ... 1 thru 5. Yes, I struggled, prior to her final question, Miss California was not my pick for Miss USA, but I would have chosen her as 1st runner-up. My final ranking for Miss California was 4th runner-up ... & if I could have made her 51st runner-up, I would have."
Bumping her from first runner-up to fourth runner-up impacted the 12 judges' average score, which determines the winner.
Not to be outdone, Giuliana Rancic, a news anchor on E! Television, wrote on her Twitter account regarding Prejean, "i know i'm a journalist, and i should be objective...but she is an ignorant discrace [sic] and she makes me sick to my stomach."
Of course, Prejean's views also were the views last fall of a majority of Californians who passed Proposition 8 and banned "gay marriage" in the state. The latest CBS News poll showed that given three options, only 33 percent of American adults support legalizing "gay marriage."
Prejean hasn't backed away from her views. 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 repeatedly has said that if given another chance, she still would have stated that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. She said she believes it cost her the crown. She also has said she is praying for Hilton.
"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."
Conservatives have defended her. Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, wrote in a post on The New York Times' website, "Carrie Prejean is a heroine to many because in that split second she had to decide, she chose truth over the tiara."
Gary Schneeberger, vice president of Focus on the Family, said the incident exposes a double standard when it comes to the practice of tolerance.
"Those who lean to the left ideologically like to paint those of us on the other side as the 'intolerant' ones," he wrote. "But some of them are going to have a hard time whitewashing the intolerance they've shown to Carrie Prejean since she said during the weekend pageant that she believes marriage should be defined as solely the union of one man and one woman."
He further wrote, "What has happened to Miss Prejean over the past few days is nothing short of religious persecution. No, it is not violent persecution but that does not minimize its existence or its danger. She is being pilloried in the public square for deigning to answer a question guided" by her biblical beliefs.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said the Prejean controversy shows that "gay marriage as a movement is not about quietly letting two men live as they choose." Instead, Brown wrote in an e-mail to subscribers, "it's about changing how the rest of us live, what we can say, what we believe, what our children are taught."