By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – A group of gay veterans of the U.S. military can march in this year’s Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, parade organizers said on Friday after an earlier move to exclude them sparked outrage and boycott threats in the liberal city.
The parade, one of the United States’ largest honoring Irish-American heritage, had long excluded openly gay participants, saying that admitting them would conflict with organizers’ Roman Catholic beliefs. In 2015 organizers agreed to allow the gay veterans’ group, OUTVETS, to march in the face of pressure from city officials and sponsors who pulled their financing.
The decades-long fight over inclusion in the celebration of the patron saint of Ireland was rekindled this week when OUTVETS said that organizers of the 116-year-old parade told them they would not be invited back to the March 19 event.
Parade organizers said the group’s participation had conflicted with the event’s Roman Catholic heritage and caused some church groups to pull out of the march. But the Allied War Council, which runs the parade, held what local media said was an emergency meeting and agreed to allow the OUTVETS to march this year.
“We are honored and humbled by all the outpouring of support that has been displayed for our LGBTQ veterans,” OUTVETS said in a statement. “We look forward to marching proudly on March 19th and honoring the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who have sacrificed for our country.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 ruled that parade organizers had the right to exclude gay marchers.
But a shift in American attitudes toward gay rights since then–particularly in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage–has prompted local politicians and sponsors of the event to call for gay groups’ inclusion in the parade.
The Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade and city have had thorny relations in recent years. A federal judge in 2016 blocked an effort by Mayor Marty Walsh to cut the three-mile (5 km) parade’s length by half, a move to lower the cost of policing an event that draws tens of thousands of sometimes rowdy revelers.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sam Holmes)