Thousands of revelers take over Southie for St. Patrick’s Day parade

A man runs in the street with a flag during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston, Sunday, March 19, 2017.
A man runs in the street with a flag during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston, Sunday, March 19, 2017.

BOSTON (AP) — Tens of thousands of people lined the frigid streets of Boston on Sunday for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which went off amid high spirits and without a hitch after a dispute over whether a gay veterans group could march.

There was no shortage of green clothing, shamrock headbands and booze during the annual parade in South Boston. Some parade-goers said they would have attended no matter the outcome of the dispute over the OutVets gay veterans group.

The parade’s organizers, the South Boston Allied War Council, initially had voted against allowing marchers from OutVets, a group representing LGBTQ veterans. But organizers reversed the decision earlier this month after the stance drew backlash.

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John Racker, of Wilmington, Delaware, said he followed the headlines on the OutVets dispute, but it wouldn’t have prevented him from taking part in the festivities on his first trip to Boston.

“I want everybody to be included, but I also wanted to see this parade,” he said.

Others spectators, including Kendal and Alexa Smith, 17-year-old twins from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, had not heard of the dispute. Both girls, dressed in green from head to toe, took the train into the city for their first St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“We always heard about this parade,” Alexa Smith said. “Our grandmother is from Ireland. We usually celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with family, decorate the house.”

The parade has long been embroiled in legal controversy, including a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council to exclude gay groups on free speech grounds.

But the council in 2015 allowed OutVets to participate for the first time in 2015.

Earlier this month, the council voted to bar OutVets because the rainbow flag — a symbol of gay pride — was on its banner and members’ jackets. Council members said the rainbow violated the parade’s code of conduct prohibition against symbols of sexual orientation.

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The vote drew immediate condemnation from politicians, including Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, and the council later reversed course and allowed OutVets.