About 1,200 people came from across North Carolina and other states Sunday to protest a Maiden preachers recent anti-gay sermon.
Beyond the protest, many said they wanted to support each other after a demoralizing ballot defeat and to show the nation that many people in North Carolina support gay rights. Some even came to declare their sexuality publicly for the first time.
(The Rev. Charles) Worley asked for something that he didnt expect, said lead organizer Laura Tipton. At this point, its become so much bigger than him.
The turnout was smaller than the several thousand predicted, but Tipton said she was proud of how many people came out to support love and not hate.
On the lawn at the Catawba County Justice Center, protesters faced about a dozen people with signs expressing anti-gay messages such as God abhors you.
At Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, where Worley preaches, he focused his sermon Sunday on Gods love and acceptance. He made no reference to the Newton protest or gay rights during the sermon.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said about 50 law enforcement personnel patrolled during the protest, and there were no arrests. The Sheriffs Office, however, did issue at least one warning citation to a counter protestor for violating the noise ordinance.
With this many people, it went pretty well, said Reid.
Reid told NewsChannel 36, the Observers news partner, that someone set fire to a power box at Providence Baptist Church on Friday.
Reid said the fire marshal is investigating the incident, but there is no reason to believe the fire is linked to the protests.
Amendment One fallout
Worleys May 13 sermon and Sundays protest stemmed from this months vote on Amendment One, an amendment to the state constitution that limits the legal definition of marriage to the union between one man and one woman. It passed with 61 percent of the votes cast.
Worley said in his sermon that gays should be put behind electrified fences. Feed em, and you know what? In a few years, theyll die. Do you know why? They cant reproduce, said Worley.
Many of the protestors Sunday said the event was a way to support each other.
I think Amendment One made people feel pretty hopeless, said Gina Hicks, 40, of Greensboro while constructing a colorful paper chain, each link with a message of hope or a supporters name on it.
People felt this was an opportunity to heal some wounds and find solace and company with like-minded people.
A short time later, dozens of people stood behind Hicks homemade chain, representing the fence in Worleys sermon, before breaking through the chain near the end of the protest.
It feels pretty amazing to be a part of this, she said.
Drivers passing by also showed their support throughout the protest.
A family affair
Decades before she found out her daughter was gay, Sherry Williams said, she remembers her father taking her to KKK meetings.
But she said she rejected discriminatory views and, when her daughter came out as gay, Williams said, she wasnt bothered. She was most concerned about her daughter encountering people who might want to hurt her because of her sexuality, Williams said.
I saw that video that horrible, hateful video (of Worleys sermon) and I couldnt even watch it all the way through, Williams said as she fought back tears. When he threatened to kill my girl, it was just too much.
On Sunday, Williams was holding a sign with a picture of her daughter, Sarah, and wife Maggie, who married recently in San Francisco.
Larry Keagy, 55, and his partner of 12 years, Fred Epeley, 69, both of Valdese, came to express their opposition to Worleys message.
For Epeley, a retired high school teacher, showing up at the protest was a declaration of his sexuality.
Today is my coming out, its so exhilarating, Epeley said. I cant believe it. I feel like Im on a spiritual high. Im speaking the truth. Ill never hide again, never again.
About a dozen people came to condemn gay behavior, quoting the Bible as justification.
There are people here who need to be saved. In the eyes of God, sodomy is punishable by death, said Pastor Billy Ball of Faith Baptist Church in Primrose, Ga., while holding a sign that described gay rights as AIDS, hell and salvation.
Ball later received a warning citation for violating the noise ordinance by using an amplified device during the protest.
Other members from his church also later got into heated disputes with other protestors about what the Bible does and doesnt condemn.
What youre doing is sin. Im trying to rescue you. I dont want to see you go to hell, yelled Doug Pitts to one woman as protest organizers with Peacekeeper nametags locked hands and surrounded him.
For most of the protest, most of the counter-protestors stayed on the other side of the street. But by 1 p.m., many had moved so that they were standing across the sidewalk from pro-gay demonstrators, prompting several tense interactions near the end of the protest.
Sunday Service in Maiden
Worley spoke to a crowded sanctuary at his church on Sunday.
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, Worley said.
He later added, God loves sinners. If you get too good to talk to a sinner, youre too good.
Following the service, Worley, 71, declined to comment about his May 13 sermon or the protest in Newton, citing his lawyers advice.
Although Worley made no public comments, his parishioners did.
Before Sunday service started, two attendees declared their support for Worley, which was received with applause throughout the sanctuary.
While leaving the service Sunday, church member Gaile Mace said she also supports Worley, adding He was saying gays and lesbians are an abomination in the eyes of God.