By Elizabeth Barber
BOSTON (Reuters) - Two homosexual rights groups will march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday after organizers lifted a longtime ban on lesbian, gay and transgender (LGBT) organizations joining the annual Irish-American march.
Boston Pride, an LGBT rights group, said this week organizers had accepted its application to participate in this year's march through the Irish bastion of South Boston.
The rights group will join OutVets, representing gay veterans, in bringing an end to two decades of debate over the issue. Organizers had insisted that homosexuality conflicted with Catholic doctrine, but the ban ran counter to the liberal mores that prevail in Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
“This is a huge step forward in our mission to have inclusivity in our city and in the Boston-area community,” said Malcolm Carey, clerk of Boston Pride’s board of directors, in a phone interview.
Mayor Marty Walsh, who last year skipped the parade because of its exclusion of gay groups, plans to march on Sunday, becoming the first mayor to do so in 20 years.
Boston’s mayors have stayed away since 1995, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the Allied War Veterans Council to ban participants identifying themselves as homosexual.
"With this year's parade, Boston is putting years of controversy behind us,” said Walsh, in a statement.
The state’s Republican governor, Charles Baker, will also march, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran who plans to march with OutVets, calling gay rights “the civil rights fight of our generation.”
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will boycott the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade again this year, with its organizers refusing to admit more than one gay rights group.
The lifting of the Boston parade's ban was not without controversy. The Massachusetts contingent of Knights of Columbus, an organization of Catholic men, pulled out of the parade on Friday, calling the event “politicized and divisive.”
The Knights had been criticized by the conservative Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, which accused the Knights of “an unconscionable betrayal of Catholic moral principles” for its plans to march.
Organizers have shortened the parade route by about half this year, after the city's near-record snowfall made it difficult to clear roads.
(Editing By Frank McGurty and Marguerita Choy)