Editors' Note: Guest blogger Ben Finzel is a Washington D.C.-based public relations professional. A former Congressional staffer and Clinton Administration appointee, his career has focused on public affairs, public education campaigns and media relations.
By now, you've likely heard or read about the latest example of the way the conversation about equal marriage rights has become part of the national dialogue. Blogger Perez Hilton asked Miss California USA (one of the top five contestants in the Miss USA pageant) her views on gay marriage. Miss California's answer - that she believes "marriage should be between a man and a woman" - sparked a media firestorm that likely gave the Miss USA Pageant more media attention than it ever would have earned otherwise (I wasn't even aware the pageant was taking place prior to this incident).
Hilton's response to Miss California's answer and his follow-up to that response sparked equally intense coverage, disappointment, outrage and commentary from every corner - including in the gay community.
But almost overlooked in this story is the reaction of the Miss California USA organization.
As the Christian Science Monitor put it in their story, "The directors of the Miss California pageant condemned her answer on Monday morning." Here's the detail from the story:
"As co-executive director of Miss CA USA and one of the leaders of the Miss CA family, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman," wrote Keith Lewis on Hilton's blog. "Although I believe all religions should be able to ordain what unions they see fit, I do not believe our government should be able to discriminate against anyone. Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family."
You could stereotypically assume that beauty pageants are uber gay-friendly given their reliance on so many of us for support and involvement, but would you ever have thought that a beauty pageant organization would be so forthright in affirming full marriage rights for everyone? I wouldn't have before today. And to me, this response is exactly the kind of subtle, but ultimately dramatic, shift that demonstrates that public perception around equal marriage rights might actually be changing.
Why didn't more media outlets pick up on this element of the story? Miss California's attempt to blame reaction to her answer for her second-place finish and Hilton's over-the-top response stole much, if not all, of the media thunder, making it difficult for any other elements of the story (like Lewis' comment) to see the light of the day. Miss California USA and Perez Hilton talked with Larry King as part of CNN's extensive coverage of this incident.
But once the immediate interest fades, I wonder it if isn't Lewis' comment that will have the longer-term impact on both communications and coverage of marriage issues. That an organization which relies on largely conservative, so-called "mainstream" viewers for funding and ratings success would feel comfortable stating a position assumed to be contrary to what many of those viewers might believe is a huge change.
We've talked here before about the range of California companies that opposed Prop. 8 and bankrolled efforts to defeat that anti-gay initiative. Perhaps Lewis' statement is just a reflection of the state his organization serves. I'm betting it's more likely a reflection of the changes taking place across the country. And I'm guessing we'll see more statements like this - and more media coverage - in the future.