They’ve always said the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants were about more than beauty.

In recent years, several contestants from the states have taken considerable heat for their principles or stated values on social issues, usually related to abortion and even chastity education.

Suddenly, this year’s pageant has erupted into a news story because of a ‘controversial answer one of the contestants gave to a question about homosexuals and marriage, said a news tease on one of the networks.

It wasn’t hard to figure out where that was going.

Carrie Prejean is the most famous runner-up in Miss USA history.

Yes, she caused a furor.

Miss California says her phone has been ringing off the hook with people offering her support after she took on a question about gay marriage on Sunday night’s Miss USA telecast.

Whatever did she say?

“I have no regrets about answering [judge Perez Hilton] honestly,” she said in one of her first interviews following the show, where she answered that she was against gay marriage becoming legal in California. “He asked me for my opinion and I gave it to him. I have nothing against gay people and I didn’t mean to offend anyone in my answer.”

Actually, you need to see the video of the actual moment to appreciate her thoughtful and charitable response. She didn’t say she was “against” anything, and couldn’t have been more dignified in her answer.

“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, 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.”

She didn’t say the right thing, for the questioner and other activists.

The response, from some quarters was swift — and angry:

“As co-director of the Miss California USA, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss California believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman,” said Keith Lewis who runs the Miss California competition. “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 and religious beliefs have no politics in the Miss California family.”

Actually, she only referred to how she was raised. They’re running away with this one.

“It’s ugly,” added Scott Ihrig, who attended the event with his partner.  ”I think it’s ridiculous that she got first runner-up. That is not the values of 95 percent of the people in this audience. Look around this audience and tell me how many gay men there are.”

If Prejean’s views are “ugly,” than she’s not alone on the public stage:  During the last presidential campaign President Obama answered the same question by declaring:

“I’m a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

Elton John agrees.

Whether we agree with Prejean, President Obama and Elton John or not, there is one thing we should all agree upon: All Americans deserve the right to debate issues and disagree with each other without threats, intimidation or ad hominem attacks.  — Those who want to convince their fellow citizens about the rightness of their cause can best accomplish that by convincing, not shaming them, into agreeing with them.

Carri Prejean is the winner there.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....