NEW YORK — Religious groups including Christians, Jews and Buddhists led the New York gay pride parade, lending gravity to the often outrageous event that celebrates the night patrons of a gay bar in Manhattan resisted a police raid.
“We stand for a progressive religious voice,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. “Those who use religion to advocate an anti-gay agenda I believe are blaspheming God’s name.”
Kleinbaum, who heads the world’s largest predominantly gay synagogue, and the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, were the parade’s grand marshals Sunday, waving from his-and-hers convertibles.
The march took place days after the New York State Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which Governor Eliot Spitzer supports. Although the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate any time soon, parade-goers said they were cheered by the Assembly’s action.
“This is one very important step toward full equality for all New Yorkers,” Kleinbaum said.
As in past years, there was exhibitionism on display as the parade inched down Fifth Avenue and into Greenwich Village. Revelers gyrated in bikini briefs and marched in spike heels.
But the placement of the religious organizations near the head of the march — ahead of AIDS service groups and political advocacy groups — gave them unaccustomed prominence.
A Buddhist group carried signs that said “Construct Dignity in Your Heart” and “Don’t Block Your Buddha.”
The gay Roman Catholic group Dignity had a float and a giant rainbow flag. Jeff Stone, secretary of the New York chapter, said he was hopeful that the church would someday change its stance opposing homosexuality.
“We see that the opinion of ordinary Catholics is changing,” he said. “Eventually what happens at the grass roots percolates up in the church.”
Toni Cinanni of Perth, Australia, said she was surprised at the prominence of the church groups.
“I thought the religious groups had hijacked the parade,” she said. “I couldn’t put it together, religion and sexuality.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg marched with officials including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is one of the most prominent openly gay elected officials in the United States.
There were contingents of gay police officers and firefighters as well as ethnic gay groups including South Asians, Haitians and American Indians.
The annual gay pride parade, one of dozens that takes place around the world, commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots when patrons at a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against a police raid.
In California, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, kicked off San Francisco’s annual gay pride parade Sunday by splitting with her husband over support for legalized gay marriage.
“I don’t know why someone else’s marriage has anything to do with me,” Mrs. Edwards said at a news conference before the parade started. “I’m completely comfortable with gay marriage.”
She made the remark almost offhandedly in answering a question from reporters after she delivered a standard campaign speech during a breakfast hosted by a local political organization.
She conceded her support puts her at odds with her husband, a former senator from North Carolina who she said supports civil unions among gay couples — but not same-sex marriages.
“John has been pretty clear about it, that he is very conflicted,” she said. “He has a deeply held belief against any form of discrimination, but that’s up against his being raised in the 1950s in a rural southern town.”
No serious presidential candidate for the 2008 election from either major political party has publicly supported gay marriage.