God and Mammon appear to have arrived just in time to save the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade from another terrible year and potential Armageddon.
As the Irish Voice exclusively reveals in this week's issue, the 2015 parade grand marshal will be Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and a gay group from NBC will march behind their own banner.
There is an existing gay group at NBC called Out @NBC Universal composed of gay staffers and supportive straight friends. It is not known if this is the actual group who will march.
NBC was set to end TV coverage of the parade, following in the footsteps of Guinness which had sent out a clarion call for equality by ending their sponsorship of the parade last year. When Ireland’s most iconic brand sent out that kind of message change was inevitable.
Ford Motor Company stayed in the New York parade this year but was forced to explain their position in a long letter to CNBC. GLAAD, the gay and lesbian lobby group, is believed to be targeting other parade sponsors as well on a year-round basis.
The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, as opaque a group as the old Soviet politburo, simply had to act. After much foot-dragging and financial chaos and the very future of the parade in the offing, they did.
Big business has helped achieve what decades of lobbying by gay groups could not, a huge step towards a fully inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade.
The withdrawal of TV coverage would have been the final and most devastating blow for the parade committee, which has long argued they have the right to exclude groups from marching.
Legally they had a point as a privately run event, but when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reignited the firestorm last year by boycotting the parade, the modern day reality that exclusion of gays was never going to work became obvious.
Facing that inevitable reality, the parade committee appears to have got religion in the person of Cardinal Dolan as grand marshal, and agreed that in the 21st century equality, not exclusion, is the way forward by allowing a gay group to march behind their banner.
Dolan’s acceptance of the grand marshal honor in the context of a compromise on the gays issue is a brave step by a cardinal who surely knows he will draw flack from both sides for his decision.
But it is surely in the spirit of Pope Francis who has clearly stated, “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to commenting on gay issues.
The compromise will not be welcomed by all, but it should be seen for what it is, a critical first step in conceding the principle of the right of gay Irish to walk in a parade that celebrates Irish culture and heritage (including the contributions of such great Irishmen as 1916 hero Roger Casement and writer Oscar Wilde, both gay men).
There are no guarantees on this issue. It should be noted that gays marched once before with Mayor Dinkins in 1991 and received an enormously hostile reception on Fifth Avenue.
Let us hope time has moved on and cooler heads now prevail. This week was a great first step.