By Mike Leventhal
ABP Staff Writer
The 250th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City kicked off with cold weather but enthusiastic crowds. More than 2 million people lined up along Fifth Avenue for the parade, which dates back to 1762. The event’s grand marshal was Cardinal Timothy Dolan. There was a heavier than usual police presence around St. Patrick’s Cathedral this year that included armored vehicles carrying officers from the Emergency Service unit as well as bomb-sniffing dogs.
It was also the first time in the parade’s 253 year history that LGBT marchers were allowed to participate.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio was noticeably absent from the parade for the second straight year citing the organizer’s restrictive policies in redlining certain activist groups.
Both the parade’s organizers and Cardinal Dolan drew criticism from faithful Catholics last year by approving Out@NBC Universal’s request to march in this year’s parade, under a banner that makes reference to their homosexuality. The controversial decision prompted the Catholic League and at least one Catholic school to pull out of the parade, while nearly 5,000 people signed a petition urging Cardinal Dolan to withdraw from the event as a show of support for Catholic teaching forbidding homosexual behavior.
But the cardinal refused to back down, expressing support for the group’s inclusion. “I have no trouble with the decision at all,” Cardinal Dolan said at a press conference announcing his appointment as grand marshal. “I think the decision is a wise one.”
Meanwhile, the parade’s organizers further upset rank-and-file Catholics by refusing to let a pro-life group march, saying they didn’t want to risk taking attention away from the gay group.
“That won’t be happening,” parade committee vice chairman John Lahey said of the pro-life group’s request to march. “What we want to do is keep 2015 focused on the gesture of goodwill we made towards the gay community with the inclusion of OUT@NBCUniversal.”
It was a most peaceful event, but some street-fighting broke out among patrons of a local pub just down the street from the parade. A community activist posted a video of the brawl that spilled out into the street outside of O’Brien’s on 46th Street
on Facebook .