- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

After more than two decades of fighting over the issue, a gay group will march for the first time under its own banner in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, organizers said Wednesday.

The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee said Wednesday that it would allow OUT@NBC Universal, a gay group associated with the television network that broadcasts the event, to officially join the march under its own banner.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan was also announced Wednesday as the parade’s grand marshal.

The Human Rights Campaign praised the move, saying it should open the door to more gay groups in the march, as well as affect St. Patrick’s Day parades in other cities.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said he had been “assured” that the new rules will also permit pro-life Catholics and other groups to march as well.

“That being the case, there should be no controversy,” Mr. Donohue said. “One would hope that all the new entries will conduct themselves in a manner that honors St. Patrick, lest another round of controversy emerges.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which honors the patron saint of Ireland, has fought to steer clear of political issues, even though politicians traditionally join the tens of thousands of firefighters, police, civil servants, unions leaders, high school bands and bagpipers in the Midtown march.

The parade organizers have long cited religious reasons for blocking certain advocacy groups from marching — in recent years, marchers were asked not to wear “gay pride” pins or sashes.

Bill O’Reilly, spokesman for the parade committee, told the Associated Press that the committee recently decided to make “a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.”

The parade’s purpose, he added, is still “remaining loyal to church teachings.”

“Organizers have diligently worked to keep politics — of any kind — out of the parade in order to preserve it as a single and unified cultural event. Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the parade,” the parade committee’s statement said.

According to Irish Voice, which first reported the news of the OUT@NBC Universal’s inclusion in the parade, the compromise was brokered after “NBC reportedly threatened to refuse to air the parade next year if organizers did not allow gay groups to march under a banner of their choosing.”

The withdrawal of support from key sponsors like beer companies Guinness, Heineken and Sam Adams, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were also factors.

Naming Cardinal Dolan as grand marshal gives “the event a boost it needs, and reinforcing organizers’ strong religious affiliation,” Irish Voice said, adding that certain St. Patrick’s Day parade committee members — including Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and Francis X. Comerford, chief revenue officer for NBC-owned TV stations — played a major role in the change of policy.

“Once an iconic company like Guinness showed it was standing up, pretty much everyone else had to follow,” an unidentified former parade official told the Irish Voice.

Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program, said the parade’s “discriminatory ban has been shameful, particularly in the very city where the LGBT rights movement got its start 45 years ago at the Stonewall Inn.”

“Hopefully, today’s developments will lead to full inclusion of LGBT groups in the New York parade, and encourage parade organizers in other cities like Boston to follow suit and end their discrimination,” said Ms. Groves.

Conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham denounced Guinness for its boycott of the parade over gay discrimination. “Welcome to the new totalitarianism,” she said earlier this week.

“No one is saying you can’t have a protest, no one is saying you can’t have your parades; no one’s excluding you from a coffee shop or university or a company or anything. They’re just saying that they’d like to have their parade without sexuality being shoved in the faces of families and children and the organizers who put it on,” Ms. Ingraham said.

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