Gay Group to March in NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade

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Irish groups march past anti-homophobia banners on Fifth Avenue at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17, 2014.

Organizers of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade say they're ending a ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time.

The prohibition on identified gay groups in the centuries-old New York parade had become a political issue. Mayor de Blasio refused to march this year, and the beer maker Guinness dropped its sponsorship.

In a statement made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday, the parade committee said it welcomes the group, described as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group at NBCUniversal. A spokesman said other gay groups can apply to march in future years.

In the past, organizers allowed gay groups to march but only with other groups and not with banners identifying them as gay.

The committee said its "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."

The statement said the parade was "remaining loyal to church teachings." It added that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who will be the parade's grand marshal next year, was "very supportive" of the change.

Dolan said last year he supported the participation of gay people.

"I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade," he said. "And I'm glad they are."

Uniformed city workers, marching bands with bagpipes, traditional Irish dancers and politicians are traditional participants at the parade, which began in 1762 and draws hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators.