One day a year, the Irish-by-blood celebrate side-by-side with the Irish-for-the-day. St. Patrick's day is one holiday that everyone can get behind. Unless you're gay and Irish. Then you have a choice: do you celebrate your heritage with everyone else, or do you sit out because the parade won't allow any open displays of homosexuality?
In 1994, a group of gay Irish wanted to march in Boston's traditional St. Patrick's Day parade but were turned away by those organizing the event. The gays sued the committee. The lengthy litigation process actually canceled the parade that year. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1995, which ruled in the organizers' favor, but only after they countersued. According to the Supreme Court's ruling, the parade sponsor's right to ban Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Irish-Americans from marching openly was protected under their expression of the First Amendment.
Fifteen years later, the policy is still in effect for Boston's parade as well as New York City's parade. It's nearly impossible to find mention of the policy itself online, as it has never been officially written down. Still, the gays continue to be excluded. This year, the NYC parade celebrated its 250th anniversary. This parade is older than our country itself. To celebrate, the organizers wanted the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, to be the Grand Marshall. McAleese turned them down, claiming she was too busy.
In reality, McAleese didn't want to make time to fly to New York and march in a parade that is perceived to be anti-gay by many. McAleese has really connected with the gay Irish, since she led a campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in the early nineties. To associate with the anti-gay parade officials would be detrimental to her political career.
Of course gays should be allowed to march in any St. Patrick's Day Parade, with their rainbow shamrocks flying proud. Since many Americans have at least some Irish blood in them, it only makes sense that many gays share the Irish heritage as well. They shouldn't be prevented from marching just because they choose to be open about their sexuality.
Barring homosexuals from participation is sending the wrong message to all gays: that are gay first and foremost, and Irish second. In reality, many gay Irish see themselves as people with Irish heritage who just happen to be gay. It's never as big of a deal to them as the organizers make it out to be.
Perhaps one day the gays will organize and challenge the parade in court again. It's such a contentious issue that it would probably go all the way to the Supreme Court for the second time. However if the current court hears the case, then they would most likely cite the First Amendment as reason to rule in favor of the parade organizers just like they did 15 years ago.
There has to be a compromise in which where the parade officials can allow gays to march openly, but still feel their own First Amendment rights are being upheld. We cannot allow discrimination and exclusivity just because someone's using their freedom of speech.