ATLANTA – A march that brought thousands of people Saturday to the grave site of Martin Luther King Jr. also drew a few dozen protesters who claimed organizers were hijacking the slain civil rights leader’s legacy to promote an anti-gay marriage agenda.
The march’s organizer, Bishop Eddie Long, said his followers “did not come in a march of hatred.”
The first goal of the march listed on his church’s Web site is to promote a constitutional amendment to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.” Other goals were promoting education reform, affordable health care and programs that create wealth for minorities.
“We are not marching against folk, we are marching for folk,” Long said at a rally after the march.
The march began after King’s daughter, Bernice, lit a torch at her father’s grave and passed it on to Long, who carried it on the two-mile march through the city. Bernice King is an elder in Long’s predominantly black 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta.
Police did not immediately provide a crowd estimate, but New Birth spokesman Erik Burton said at least 15,000 people attended the march.
About 50 protesters gathered at the event carrying signs that read “Don’t Hijack Dr. King’s Dream” and “All Forms of Bigotry are Equally Wrong.”
“He has built this march on the legacy of Dr. King, and those of us who understand Dr. King’s legacy also understand Dr. King would never support any type of activity that would prohibit the rights of any people,” said the Rev. Antonio Jones of Atlanta’s Unity Fellowship Church.
Long has called for a national ban on gay marriage, and his church counsels gay members to abandon their lifestyle.
King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, has called gay marriage a civil rights issue and denounced proposed amendments to ban it.