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Republican actress Angie Harmon is standing up for Miss California Carrie Prejean, who has been criticized for saying on Sunday's Miss USA pageant that she does not support gay marriage.

"If someone is standing up for how they feel and talking about their beliefs, why are we punishing her for that?" Harmon, 36, told Tuesday at the opening of the Malibu Lumber Yard in Calif. "I just don't understand how we've gotten to a place in America where, if someone doesn't agree with everyone, then they are punished for it."

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Prejean, 21, insists her controversial answer "cost" her the crown. (Shanna Moakler, director of the Miss California USA pageant, denies this.)

Said Harmon, "I heard something in the car on the way over here, and it was like, 'She wasn't punished,' but she lost because of it. So she was punished."

"I find it incredibly disappointing," she went on. "I mean, that is what she thinks. That's what she believes. I'm not going to punish anyone for that. I don't know if she lost because of it, but if she did, I think that is very disappointing. In the Miss USA, she can't stand up for what she thinks or what she believes in? I don't understand that."

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Harmon told Us she disagreed with those - including judge Perez Hilton, who posed the question - who said Prejean should have given a middle-of-the-road answer.

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"People say she has to be PC ... no," Harmon said. "She's standing up for what she believes in. She didn't come out and say, 'I hate gay people.' That's not what she said at all. I think it's sad, I really do."