Miss California keeps her crown, and her opinions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An emotional Miss California Carrie Prejean kept her crown on Tuesday, and the beauty queen stood by her opposition to gay marriage and defended posing for topless photos.

Prejean, 21, made headlines last month at the Miss USA pageant when she expressed her opinion on gay marriage and claimed her answer cost her the Miss USA crown.

After the pageant, she met with the National Organization for Marriage and spoke at an event for the group which opposes same-sex marriage. Topless photos emerged of her and it was revealed the beauty pageant helped pay for her breast implants.

Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump praised Prejean for her beauty and standing by her opinion, and he judged the topless photos as acceptable for her to continue her reign. “If her beauty wasn’t so great no one really would have cared,” he said.

Prejean’s Miss California title was not in doubt because of her opposition to same-sex marriage, but because she was operating independently of pageant organizers and had failed to disclose her topless photos. Prejean said the photos were taken for modeling agency applications, not for publication.

“I exercised my freedom of speech and I was punished for doing so,” an emotional Prejean said at a news conference. “This should not happen in America. It undermines the constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for (in World War Two).

“I believe no one should be silenced if they are speaking from their heart. I am a model. I am a Christian,” she said, adding that she forgave everyone who had attacked her for her anti-gay marriage opinions.

Her views, and the strident reaction to them, came in the midst of heated nationwide debates over same-sex weddings which have recently been legalized in five U.S. states but banned in a California referendum in November.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman.