A prayer vigil organized by local church leaders concerned about social issues facing Asbury Park, N.J.--including its recent decision to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple--drew hundreds of marchers this weekend. While organizers said same-sex marriage was just one of many issues that spurred Sunday's rally, they said it was the "final reason" that convinced them the vigil was needed in this Monmouth County town. "We believe the word of God is to be taken as is, and we are not going to compromise," the Reverend Porter S. Brown, leader of Faith Baptist Tabernacle, told the Asbury Park Press. While official crowd estimates were not available, organizers claimed that about 1,200 people from around the region came out for Sunday's vigil, which lasted about 30 minutes. Besides speaking out against same-sex marriage, speakers also called for quick action to combat drug abuse, poverty, inadequate housing, and gang-related violence.
The vigil drew some dissenters, including Louis Navarrete, 42, who married Ric Best, 44, during a March 8 ceremony at City Hall after officials granted the two men a marriage license. The city halted the licensing process for same-sex marriages after state attorney general Peter Harvey threatened criminal prosecution, and the city council and a national conservative group have since filed separate lawsuits that seek to determine whether the city's actions were legal. Navarrete disputed claims made by some marchers, who said the council was interested only in appeasing gays and lesbians while ignoring the concerns of Christians. "The government really is there to protect us from intrusion," Navarette said, adding that he also is a Christian. "The church really has no place to legislate people's lives."