At Queens diversity parade, same-sex nups trump the naysayers
For the crowd gathered in Sunnyside, Queens on March 8 for the fifth annual St. Pat’s for All Parade, the sunny day mirrored a sunny outlook regarding the fate of same-sex marriage.
At this enthusiastic tribute to diversity, spawned in part by the rejection of openly queer marchers in the larger annual parade on Fifth Avenue on March 17, support for gay and lesbian civil marriage was overwhelming, even if not unanimous.
The crowd welcomed Mayor Jason West of New Paltz, the burg at the forefront of the same-sex marriage debate in New York. Other elected officials in attendance included Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Councilmembers Christine Quinn, John Liu, Eric Gioia, and David Weprin, city Comptroller William Thompson, and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.
“The reason we have support for same-sex marriage in New Paltz is that people feel comfortable coming out there—it’s normalized; they’re the friends you see in school, at work, in the market,” West told Gay City News on Sunday. “And so, when someone like President Bush starts taking away the rights of our friends and neighbors, we have to say no, we are not going to let that happen. I’m happy to be here today, because things like this parade create that kind of atmosphere.”
Parade organizer Brendan Fay and his partner Tom Moulton, clad in traditional Irish kilts, moved through the crowd ensuring the positive atmosphere continued at the first parade in years graced by good weather. Fay and Moulton exchanged wedding vows last May in a public ceremony attended by hundreds of friends and relatives, some of them from Ireland.
At that time, same-sex marriage rights seemed to be on a distant horizon. But during Sunday’s parade, a large contingent of marchers held aloft signs indicating their support for same-sex marriage, one which read, “San Fran, New Paltz… next, NYC!”
Local politicians shared this sentiment.
“This is the only St. Patrick’s parade where the entire Irish American community is represented,” Quinn told Gay City News.
And, as she would repeat later to marchers, she noted, “All we are asking for is the exact same thing that other Irish in New York are asking for. And when we ask for same-sex marriage, all we are asking for are the exact same rights as others.”
Amongst the cheerleaders practicing their calls, the Sunnyside United Dog Society calming their pooches, and grand marshals Frank Durkan, a prominent Irish American civil rights attorney, and Siobhan Kyne, a leader in the Irish community, sending out blessings in Gaelic, other attendees, including Miller, lauded the efforts of parade organizers.
“This is a day to express how important it is as New Yorkers and Americans to come together and stand up for each other,” Miller said. “This is a monumental point in our history… and we have to decide, where do we stand?”
Exactly one week before, the speaker stood with a large crowd of gay rights advocates on the steps of City Hall to call on Bloomberg to order City Clerk Victor Robles to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“We have an equal protection clause in our state Constitution that says … if we create a second class of citizens, that is wrong,” Miller continued. “I believe same-sex civil marriage is the law of New York today, and that all New Yorkers have the rights I have: not second-class status but equal status. And when people ask what message this sends to the children, I think of my own children, and believe that this sends the message that when I say I believe in equal rights for everyone, I mean everyone.”
William Thompson called this “a moment in history when everyone needs to stand up and be counted.” Gotbaum said, “There is no question where we as city leaders stand: everyone should have the right to be married.”
In fact, only one city leader seemed less than enthusiastic about his placement in this historical moment in the city’s civil rights history: Bloomberg. Arriving moments before the parade began, Bloomberg neatly sidestepped the same-sex marriage issue, conceding only that, “if you are successful in getting the law changed in Albany, you can rest assured this city will enforce the law.” (See Andy Humm’s story, page 9).
From 43rd Street in Sunnyside, Bloomberg and parade organizers headed down Skillman Avenue and, with the exception of two anti-gay protestors and several outspoken critics of the mayor, the procession moved without incident to 60th Street and Woodside Avenue.
Among the marchers, only Queens resident Paul Priore, the gay man who lost an alleged discrimination lawsuit against the Yankees last December, spoke out against same-sex marriage rights. Priore toted a sign identifying himself as gay and referring to same-sex marriage as a “sham.” Priore told Gay City News he is against marriage altogether, adding, “If you love each other, you don’t need a piece of paper, as long as you can get the same benefits.” He suggested a complete overhaul of the institution of marriage.
For the majority of those marching, including outspoken advocates of same-sex marriage, such a drastic overhaul was not needed. On that sunny day in Sunnyside, it seemed as though most of those celebrating St. Patrick’s Day simply wanted to play a part in the drama already unfolding from coast to coast.