SAN FRANCISCO — Miss California Carrie Prejean, who became the bombshell of the Miss USA pageant by saying gay couples should not be allowed to marry, said Sunday that her state sponsors urged her to apologize afterward but she rejected the advice.
Prejean, 21, said officials from the Miss California USA pageant were worried that her comments would cost their contest financial backing and tried to prepare her for a string of post-pageant media interviews by discouraging her from discussing her religious beliefs.
"`You need to apologize to the gay community. You need to not talk about your faith. This has everything to do with you representing California and saving the brand,'" Prejean recalled being told. "I was representing California. I was representing the majority of people in California."
She offered her version of the tense hours following the April 19 Miss USA pageant while appearing at the San Diego megachurch that has helped shape her views. The Rock Church, founded by former San Diego Chargers defensive back Miles McPherson, was active in the campaign to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriages in California last year.
Prejean, who was named first runner-up to Miss North Carolina and will remain Miss California until November, has spent the last week defending her comments, made during the pageant's final round. They came in response to celebrity blogger Perez Hilton's question about legalizing same-sex marriage.
"I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," she said. "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."
Hilton, who is gay, stoked the 30-second exchange the next day when he cursed the beauty queen on his blog and suggested her response may have cost Prejean the Miss USA crown.
Officials from K2 Productions, which produces the Miss California USA pageant, did not immediately return a phone call Sunday from The Associated Press seeking to verify Prejean's account.
The San Diego Christian College junior, model and member of the San Diego Padres "Pad Squad" received a heroine's welcome from fellow members of the Rock, where she was the guest of honor at morning services. Seated onstage across from McPherson, she recalled resisting multiple opportunities _ from her appearance on NBC's "Today" show to a performance with Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump _ to edit, explain or expound upon her remarks.
"I knew I had to stay true to my beliefs and not let them intimidate me into taking back what I said because I don't take back what I said," she said.
Rashad Robinson, media programs director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said Prejean's honesty would have been admirable if, in frankly expressing her opinion, she hadn't misspoke.
"Contrary to Miss California's claim, people can't choose, gay and lesbian couples don't have a choice except in a handful of states," Robinson said. "In her extensive public platform since then, she hasn't clarified that, she hasn't walked back from what are clearly misstatements."
Because the contestant's scores are supposed to be kept secret, it may never be known whether Prejean would have won had she not drawn Hilton's question. Trump has said one part of the pageant would not have decided the outcome. Other pageant veterans, however, say that based on her standing as first runner-up, low scores from one judge would have been enough to cost Prejean the title.
Besides Hilton, at least two more of the pageant's dozen judges have said Prejean should have given a more politic, if not politically correct, answer to avoid offending anyone and that it was her lack of tact, not her opposition to same-sex marriage, that ruffled feathers.
"I do not fault her for her beliefs. I fault her for her complete lack of social grace, and that's a quality I want my Miss USA to possess," judge Alicia Jacobs, a former Miss Nevada, wrote on her blog.
Others, though, have applauded Prejean for her forthrightness. The other four finalists were asked whether they would speak out against domestic violence, favor using taxpayer money to bail out corporations, give immigrants access to health care and help fund elections in Afghanistan.
"A question like that is not relevant in a platform such as the Miss USA pageant. It's far too political and it's divisive as well," said Kenya Moore, the 1993 Miss USA who was one of the judges that named Prejean Miss California in November. "Half of the audience is going to agree and half is not, no matter what she said. It's a no-win situation."
As for Prejean, there is still the possibility she could go on to become Miss USA if winner Kristen Dalton wins the Miss Universe pageant this summer. Meanwhile, she plans to continue making the public appearances that comes with her Miss California USA duties.
On Thursday, she received a standing ovation while presenting an award at the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards in Nashville, but said, "up in Hollywood, I'm not sure what their reaction would be to my showing up at a movie premiere."
She said she would be willing to meet with representatives from California's largest gay rights group "as long as it's not political."
If anything, Prejean has solidified her stance in the last week. McPherson, who preaches against homosexuality, has been acting as her adviser and encouraging her to use her newfound fame to persuade other evangelical Christians to share their views, even if they are unpopular.
"I learned that God has a bigger crown than any man can give you," she said.