New York's St. Patrick's parade marches on amid gay rights controversy

Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:59pm EDT
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By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - About one million spectators, mostly dressed in green, streamed into New York on Monday for its St. Patrick's Day Parade, even as the city's mayor and beer companies that previously sponsored the event dropped out amid concerns that organizers excluded gay groups.

Parade organizers in New York and Boston, two of the most liberal U.S. cities, have long excluded openly gay marchers, saying that doing so would conflict with the group's Roman Catholic heritage.

Protests over the exclusion came to a head this year, with newly elected mayors Bill de Blasio of New York and Marty Walsh of Boston skipping their cities' parades in protest. On Sunday, brewery Guinness said it would join Heineken in dropping sponsorship of the parade as it faced protests from local gay rights groups.

On the sidelines of the parade in New York, gay rights groups staged a small but fervent protest on Monday urging people to boycott marching or watching.

"Those who stand with the parade are making a clear choice to endorse bigotry," said Emmaia Gelman of the group Irish Queers, which organizes yearly protests of the parade. "When sponsors finally stop paying for religious-right homophobia, the parade can go back to being Irish."

Organizers of the 253-year-old parade said that gay and lesbian marchers could participate, but not carry signs or banners that expressed gay-rights messages.

Publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp, voiced support for the parade's organizers.

"Where will this end?" Murdoch mused on Twitter. "Guinness pulls out of religious parade bullied by gay orgs who try to take it over. Hope all Irish boycott the stuff."   Continued...

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson (2nd L) sits with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (3rd R) during a service at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York March 17, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson