Catholic group calls for boycott after beer makers support gay rights

Beer companies pulled sponsorship from St. Patrick's Day parades that banned LGBT groups from openly marching

Spectators gather for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17, 2014, as protesters decry the parade's ban of open LGBT marches.
Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The president of a Roman Catholic group has called for a boycott of beer makers Guinness, Sam Adams and Heineken after the brewers revoked their sponsorship of the Boston and New York City St. Patrick’s Day parades for barring gays from openly marching.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue on Wednesday also accused lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups of carrying out a “bullying campaign” that pressured the beer companies into withdrawing their support for the parades held Monday.

The parade organizers allow LGBT marchers to take part, but prohibit them from carrying signs or banners that identify themselves as such.

"These (LGBT) groups don't care for the constitutional rights of Catholics," Donohue told Al Jazeera, accusing them and the beer makers of “ignorance” and pointing out a 1995 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing private parade organizers’ right to determine their own rules for marching.

Donohue said his group will specifically promote the Guinness boycott, while other Catholic groups, which he did not identify, will handle those of Sam Adams and Heineken. "I have the time and money. We're going to punish Guinness for what they've done," Donohue said, adding that his group plans on taking out ads in newspapers as part of its campaign.

A Heineken representative stood by his company’s decision, telling Al Jazeera in an email, "Our intent is to always act in a non-discriminatory way. When we come across something that contradicts this, we take action. For that reason, we didn’t sponsor the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade."

Representatives for Sam Adams and Guinness did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Gay rights advocates played down Donohue’s remarks and said Catholics in the United States are generally more supportive of gay rights than the general population.

Donohue's comments "show that he is seriously out of step with his fellow Catholics," said Ross Murray, director of news at LGBT rights organization GLAAD.

"Mr. Donohue forgets that Catholic people are the most LGBT-affirming of any Christian denomination, overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality," he told Al Jazeera, adding, "The roots of New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade were founded in the ideas of diversity and inclusion, and that is what the parade needs to get back to."

A 2011 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Catholics (56 percent) do not believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is a sin. The report said that among the general population, less than half (46 percent) share that sentiment.

Before this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, GLAAD and MassEquality, a gay rights organization, approached several sponsors as part of their efforts to combat LGBT discrimination.

Prior boycotts

The New York City-based Catholic League was founded in 1973 and says on its website that it “defends the right of Catholics to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.” The group has previously called for similar boycotts, including one against Miller beer in 2007 following the company's decision to sponsor San Franscisco's Folsom Street Fair, which bills itself as largest leather/fetish event in the world.

The Catholic League said then that it was upset with Miller for sponsoring an anti-Christian event whose ads depicted "half-naked homosexuals at a table mimicking the Last Supper."

The group called off that boycott after Miller apologized and conceded that it had violated its own marketing policies by sponsoring the event.

"If anyone has doubts about my seriousness, all they need to do is look up our boycott of Miller beer,” said Donohue. “I beat Miller and now I'm going after Guinness."

"The parade is not about their cause, it's about St. Patrick," he said, adding that the organizing committee was not trying to stop the LGBT community from holding its own parades.

Although some parade organizers in the U.S. do not permit members of the LGBT community from openly marching, for the past two years their counterparts in Ireland have allowed gay groups to openly participate in the Dublin-based St. Patrick's Day parade.

The GLAAD rights group’s Murray said that the Pope himself has spoken out in defense of the LGBT community. "Even the Pope has said, 'Who am I to judge?' when speaking about LGBT people," he said.

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