St. Patrick's Day parade sponsors have a free speech right to
exclude homosexuals or any other group they disagree with, the
Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday in a case from Boston.
A parade is a form of free expression, and the sponsor is the
speaker who "has the autonomy to choose the content of his own
message," the court held.
For the government to force parade organizers to include groups
with whom they disagree "grates on the First Amendment, for it
amounts to nothing less than a proposal to limit speech in the
service of orthodox expression," Justice David H. Souter wrote.
In a separate free-speech case, the Supreme Court refused to
hear a challenge to the year-old federal law that protects access
to abortion clinics.
The involvement of gay and lesbian groups in St. Patrick's Day
parades has been a big issue in recent years in Boston and New York
City. In Boston, the courts forced parade organizers to include a
homosexual group, but in New York the courts permitted sponsors to
bar gays and lesbians.
St. Louis Impact
The issue has been less visible in St. Louis, although a gay
rights group protested in 1992 that it had been excluded from the
St. Patrick's Day parade run in the Dogtown area by the Ancient
Order of the Hibernians.
The separate parade in downtown St. Louis hasn't had
controversy involving homosexual groups, says organizer Joseph
McGlynn. But he welcomed the Supreme Court decision, saying it
supported his group's practice of excluding any group with a
political message - whether it was a Democratic ward organization
or a pro-Irish Republican Army group. The last group that McGlynn
remembers barring was made up of men from the Soulard neighborhood
who marched as Girl Scouts in an "effeminate way."
In the case decided Monday in Washington, a Massachusetts court
had ruled that the sponsors of the Boston parade violated the state
public accommodations law by excluding the Irish-American Gay,
Lesbian and Bisexual Group. The Massachusetts court ordered the
parade sponsor, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, to
include the group in the 1992 and 1993 marches. In 1994, the
sponsors canceled the parade rather than include the group.
This year, the sponsors made the parade an invitation-only
event to protest the earlier court rulings. All sides agreed that
the 1995 parade was expressive activity protected by the First
Amendment and that the gay group could be excluded. …