This week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the unprecedented, historic step of refusing to march in the annual Fifth Avenue Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the biggest global showcase of Irish heritage in the world.
Some have said that by standing in solidarity with Irish LGBT groups the mayor has demonstrated he does not want to be associated with Irish Catholics. But that contention play’s into the idea that Irish Catholics and LGBT groups are everywhere and always implacably opposed.
The truth is most Irish people here actually support inclusion and equality, for all. So it’s time to remind Mayor de Blasio that many (possibly most) of us support him.
When it comes to his decision not to march in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue this year, the Mayor has made the right call. In fact, he made the only call he could have.
This is New York City. You can not claim to represent the diversity and greatness of this city by supporting only the parts of it that look, think and act like yourself.
That’s not how a social compact works. That’s not how New York works. That’s not the kind of message you want to send the voters if you are sincere – and can there be any doubt now that he is – in your commitment to represent all New Yorkers, Catholic and otherwise, heterosexual and gay.
Some prominent Irish Americans have suggested this week that de Blasio would have done better to split the baby by marching in the main parade which bans gay Irish groups as well as marching in the gay inclusive parade in Queens that welcomes them.
That fig leaf proved useful for former Mayor Bloomberg they said, why couldn’t it have worked for de Blasio? But doesn’t the fact that they’re still asking that question show how little critical thinking they’ve done on the issue over the past two and a half decades?
The world looks very different than it did in 1990 when this squabble was really getting started and crucially, so does United States federal and state law. Those who still support the continuing ban and even those who have simply grown complacent over the stalemate have failed to recognize that the nation is in a new moment, one that has long since left them behind.
Some Irish observers have suggested that the mayor should have attempted to mediate the dispute. Instead of taking the unprecedented and historic step of blankly refusing to participate. He could have saved our blushes by involving himself in the argument, even though the parade organizers have given no indication they are of a mind to bring it to an end.
After twenty-five years of shameful stalemate, I’m not sure what concessions these observers think he can actually win? It’s doubtful that even Senator George Mitchell could produce a new path forward.
Given the choice between participating in a parade that discriminates against gay people – and this parade certainly does – or absenting himself so that he doesn’t tacitly endorse that decades long message of exclusion, de Blasio did what any principled political leader has to – he sided with the oppressed.
We don’t feel ourselves living in history. We rarely know when we’re a part of it ourselves. But even five minutes after an historic thing has happened we can start to feel transformed by it, first individually and then as a nation.
The transformational moment happened last June when the Supreme Court ruled in the United States versus Windsor case that ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional. LGBT citizens need take no lectures from anyone that their right to self-determination must wait a day longer. Frankly we’re Irish, we should know this anyway.
So Mayor de Blasio has just made history. He will be remembered for his insistence that all men are created equal, just as the parade committee and those who support them will be remembered for their insistence that they are not.
Those who line up to call him the mayor a socialist, or a liberal, or – heaven forefend – an Italian, only demonstrate how low they now have to bend to scrape the barrel. Those fig leafs don’t disguise the contempt that has always been at the root of this squabble.
Besides this is not de Blasio’s fight. It’s ours in the Irish American community. It’s disingenuous at best for us to point the finger outside the tribe. Irish people started this argument among themselves, Irish people will have to end it.
The Catholic organizers of the parade now find themselves still to the right of Pope Francis himself. Who am I to judge gay people, the pope asked last year?
It’s a question that the Saint Patrick’s Day parade organizers and those who support their embarrassing decades long discrimination need to asks themselves more – and by now they should really know how it’s done - after all they’ve had twenty five years practice judging others.
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