By Alex Davidson
Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and many Queens politicians Sunday in Sunnyside for a St. Patrick’s Day parade that turned into a rally calling for the legalization of same-sex marriages.
Bloomberg marched alongside Mayor Jason West, the 26-year-old top official in the village of New Paltz, N.Y. who became the state’s first mayor to marry same-sex couples Feb. 28.
The elected officials came to Queens as part of the fifth annual all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade, the only celebration of its kind in which gays and lesbians can participate.
“What we are seeing in America today is the largest flowering of the civil rights movement this country has seen in a generation,” said West, a member of the Green Party. “And I am honored and surprised that I was put into a position to be able to articulate some of that movement.”
West, almost two weeks after initiating the same-sex marriages, has since been charged with 19 misdemeanor counts that allege he wrongly interpreted state law by allowing gays and lesbians to wed without proper licenses.
Bloomberg, a Republican who has stayed relatively quiet on the same-sex marriage issue, said he came to the parade to support the event’s diverse participants. He only offered a hint of his stance on whether or not gays and lesbians should under current law be allowed to wed.
“It (the parade) is a chance for us to say that we want civil rights for everybody,” Bloomberg said. “And clearly there are issues and if you want to get them changed, if you are successful in getting the law changed in Albany, then you can rest assured that this city will enforce the law.”
The all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens was started in 2000 as an alternative to the celebration that takes place March 17 on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Gays and lesbians were excluded from those festivities and as a result Sunnyside parade co-founder Brendan Fay said he was inspired to hold an event that welcomes all people of Irish descent.
“I am very proud of what the parade has achieved,” Fay said. “I think that what we have done is create a celebration that sends a strong message of hospitality.”
This was the first year that no protesters lined the parade route’s streets, Fay said. He said it was significant that Bloomberg marched in the parade despite the mayor’s unclear position on same-sex marriages.
In speaking to the crowd, which included the Patricia Lewsley, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Miller said the current state constitution could be interpreted to allow for legal same-sex marriages. He criticized Bloomberg for not taking the lead on the issue and forcing the state to initiate legislation allowing for gays and lesbians to wed.
“I will just say that I think that this is a time when we have to stand up for equal treatment for all New Yorkers,” Miller said. “And it is very clear that gays and lesbians are not able to have the same rights under the law currently as other Americans.”
He added: “If we create second-class citizens, we are not standing up for equal protection of the laws.”
Advocates for same-sex civil marriages marched on City Hall last Thursday as dozens of gay and lesbian couples tried to obtain licenses from City Clerk Victor Robles. All the couples were denied their requests, but the issue has been left to the State Supreme Court following several lawsuits contending same-sex marriages are legal.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said he favors the legal avenue for gays and lesbians to obtain their marriage rights. He said other means of obtaining the right to wed might give the perception that the law is something that could selectively be followed.
“I would prefer that this (same-sex marriage) be seen as being done in an orderly fashion,” Weiner said. “Fundamental to my argument that I make to those who oppose full gay rights is this: Someone else’s right to marriage doesn’t change your relationship with your husband or wife and it doesn’t undermine society in any way.”
The parade, which started at 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue, weaved through Sunnyside and ended with a fair at the Tower View in Woodside. People lined the streets to see West, Bloomberg, Miller, and cultural and social groups such as an Irish soccer club, representatives from the Mexican and Peruvian communities and Irish dancers and puppeteers.
Barbara Mohr, a co-organizer of the Queens parade for three years, said the diverse parade marchers make the parade unique among other St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
“The purpose of this parade is inclusivity,” she said.
Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), one of three openly gay members of the City Council, said the all-inclusive parade was integral to advancing the rights of gays and lesbians in New York City. She criticized Bloomberg for what she called “waffling” on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I think this is the most important parade in the city. It is the only truly inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in the five boroughs,” Quinn said. “This parade is the only event where the entirety of the Irish-American community is embraced.”
She said: “It is the only event that says, yes, there are Irish lesbians and gay men.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.