New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade has been in existence since March 17, 1762–that’s fourteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For 253 years it has marched up 5th Avenue and ever more deeply into the fabric not only of New York City, but also American, culture. Hosted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in celebration of Ireland’s signature saint, the parade is a grand celebration of New York and of that city’s and our country’s Irish-American heritage.
But a few things have happened to the culture since 1762. Among them, quite recently, a mainstreaming of the gay lifestyle, including the increasing legalization of gay marriage. The gay community and those who support it have not shown themselves tolerant of those segments of the culture resistant of those changes. When the Ancient Order of Hibernians again this year refused to allow gay activists to march openly, there was a sharp backlash. New York mayor Bill de Blasio decided to boycott the event. His counterpart in Boston, Marty Walsh, declined to attend his city’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade for the same reasons.
Then, in perhaps the unkindest cut of all, the Guinness Brewing Company on the eve of the annual march pulled its sponsorship.
Let’s first of all attend to the rhetoric. New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is not “anti-gay” and its decision not to let gay activists march is not “grotesque.” The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Roman Catholic organization–the oldest and largest Irish-Catholic organization in the United States–deeply indebted to the mother country’s Roman Catholic heritage. To want to celebrate Irishness and Catholicism on Saint Patrick’s Day is not to take up a stance contra anything–excepting, perhaps, Lenten abstinence of beer.
True, gay activists have not been invited to march. But this is not because the parade’s hosts are actively seeking to marginalize groups who don’t agree with them. They simply want to celebrate their own religious and immigrant heritage, not the agenda of a group whose view of sexuality runs counter to their own. Certainly gay persons, as New Yorkers, were invited to take part in this morning’s march, but not as gay activists.
Arizona a few weeks ago. New York City today. More and more we’re going to be hearing of these clashes between the gay community and those communities, not just Catholic ones, who do not recognize the moral validity of their lifestyle. Exacerbating the tension in regard to Saint Patrick’s Day is that the annual parade, at least in New York and Boston, is wired into municipal politics. This made perfect sense in former times, when the various sub-cultures of these great cities shared a common core. But those days are long gone. New York City and Boston are no longer melting pots but culturally balkanized battlegrounds.
The New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is never again going to be what it once was–an occasion, not just for the city’s Irish-Americans, but for all the city’s citizens to celebrate being New Yorkers. That parade, as we are seeing, has come to an end. From now on it will be an annual cultural skirmish in which one side seeks to defend its religious heritage from the attacks of those who seem determined to brook no opposition.
Aleteia iconographer Jeffrey Bruno was at the parade today. Click this link to enjoy a display of his pictures from the event.