The Massachusetts state courts’ order that a self-proclaimed gay group admitted to the annual parade was protested by a private organization as a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The presentation of an edited compilation of speech generated by persons is a staple of most newspapers’ opinion pages, which fall squarely within the core of First Amendment scrutiny.
Massachusetts state anti-discrimination law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation in the admission or treatment of any person in a place of public accommodation. The state courts found GLIB’s exclusion from the parade to be based on sexual orientation and ordered the group admitted to the parade. Members of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council that organized the parade protected this forced inclusion as a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Must the private organizers of a St. Patrick’s Day parade include a self-proclaimed gay contingent among the parade’s marchers?
No, the state courts’ mandate violates the First Amendment because parades are a form of expression, not just motion. The protected expression that inheres in a parade is not limited to the banners and songs but extends to its symbolism. Spectators line the streets and marchers carry flags and banners with all sorts of messages. By forcing the Council to adopt the content of the message that is not in line with its own, the courts’ mandate violates the First Amendment.
The petitioner and the Council disclaimed any intent to exclude homosexuals and no individual member of GLIB claims to have been excluded from parading as a member of any group the the Council has approved to march. GLIB, however, sought admission to its own parade unit carrying its own banner. Since every participating unit affects the message conveyed by the private organizers, the state court’s application of the statute produced an order essentially requiring petitioners to alter the expressive content of their parade. This use of the State’s power violates the fundamental rule of protection under the First Amendment, that a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message.