Mayor David N. Dinkins, top city officials and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo all boycotted the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade on Tuesday to protest the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the line of march.
Some 150,000 marchers followed a green stripe up Fifth Avenue through snow showers that turned to sunshine amid heavier than usual police security. Near the reviewing stand they were greeted by boos and jeers from about 400 demonstrators, who were kept behind police barriers.
"My Irish eyes are bright and gay, but they are not smiling," read a sign held aloft by one of the protesters. "Gay, Irish and Proud," proclaimed another poster.
After months of legal wrangling, a federal judge Monday declined to order the parade's sponsors to allow gay marchers to participate, and bitterness spilled into the streets.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Roman Catholic fraternal group, argued it has the constitutional right of freedom of association to exclude homosexuals.
U.S. District Judge Pierre Leval did not address the constitutional issue, ruling instead that the gay group was not entitled to jump ahead of others on the parade waiting list.
Dinkins spoke at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence.
"It hurts that these young men and women are to be rejected and excluded from the greatest celebration of Irishness in the world just because of whom they love," Dinkins said.
In a statement issued in Albany, the state capital, Cuomo also criticized the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the parade's sponsor.
"I regret that the parade is now being defined by its sponsors as a religious statement that must exclude lesbians and gay men," the governor said. "If the parade is to be a religious statement, it should be one that emphasizes humility and inclusion, and that includes lesbians and gay men."
Taking his customary position on the front steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal John O'Connor reviewed the marchers, including 150 bands and 50 contingents of bagpipers. At a Mass before the parade, the cardinal pleaded for an end to violence in New York City.
Unlike protests at Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday where gay and lesbian marchers were taunted and were the target of smoke bombs, the march in New York City was orderly.