NEW YORK (Reuters) - Organizers of the New York City Saint Patrick's Day Parade said on Wednesday they will allow gay groups to march under their own banner in the 2015 procession, changing a decades-long policy.
One group that said it will walk under its own sign is Out@NBCUniversal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group associated with WNBC-TV. The station is the longtime broadcast partner of the nationally televised event, next scheduled for March 17, 2015.
Controversy over the ban has led to lawsuits and boycotts. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council refused to march in this year's parade and two big sponsors of the event, brewers Guinness and Heineken yanked their sponsorship.
LGBT groups were allowed in the procession, the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day parade, but were prohibited from displaying banners, flags and pins that identified sexual orientation.
The parade committee said the new policy was aimed at welcoming LGBT groups while staying true to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"This change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics as it moves into its 253rd year, all the while remaining loyal to church teachings and the principles that have guided the parade committee for so many decades," the committee said in a statement.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, expressed continued support for the parade committee after it announced the new policy, saying he has "always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage" and hopes "the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us."
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the policy change marked "a good day for New Yorkers who believe in fairness, equality, and human rights. For far too long the St. Patrick's Day Parade excluded New Yorkers just because of who they to love. I am happy organizers finally realized that this parade is better when all are invited."
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group associated with WNBC-TV said on its Twitter feed, "We are proud to be the 1st #LGBT group to march in NYC St. Patrick's Day parade."