Rose Parade's Theme Ignites Gay Family Debate

The newly elected president of the Rose Parade (search) says he was not trying to put himself in the middle of the furor over gay rights. But that is exactly what happened when he picked as the parade theme for next year "Celebrate Family."

Soon after last month's announcement, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association received a flurry of e-mails, calls and letters from conservative groups and others worried that gay organizations might try to enter floats in the New Year's Day parade.

"Homosexual activist groups are now trying to hijack the Rose Parade and are pushing themselves into this as a public relations stunt to try to switch topics away from family and toward the homosexual agenda," warned Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for California Families (search).

The president of the Rose Parade organization, David Davis, said he picked the theme for the 116th annual New Year's Day parade to honor the volunteer families who make the event happen.

"I guess you can call me blissfully naive," he said. "It's a simple idea that should be wholesome and all-American."

So far, no gay organizations have stepped forward to say they will enter floats. In fact, gay rights activists said they have been caught up in a controversy that was not of their making.

Among those sounding the alarm is state Sen. William "Pete" Knight, a Southern California Republican who wrote Proposition 22, the 2000 voter-approved ballot measure that banned gay marriage. Knight said he fears gay and lesbian groups seeking to broaden the definition of family will use the parade, broadcast to millions of TV viewers nationwide, as a platform.

"I would suspect that the homosexual community will take advantage of this," he said.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson also urged listeners of his daily radio broadcast to express their outrage. Davis' name, telephone number and e-mail address were included in the broadcast and have been posted on the Colorado-based group's Web site.

Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Rose Parade organization, said no organization will be excluded from participating.

"This is a big family of people who come together to do the Rose Parade. The definition of family really sits with the individual," he said. "We are not defining family."

The debate comes in the midst of a gay-rights controversy fueled by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's (search) decision earlier this month to grant marriage licenses to gays. More than 3,000 gay and lesbian couples have gotten married in the city so far. Also, on Tuesday, President Bush called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade faced a controversy in 1995 over the efforts of parade organizers to keep gays out. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, ruling the parade is a privately sponsored event.

The Rose Parade is organized and staged by the private, nonprofit Tournament of Roses Association, which includes about 1,000 volunteers.

Lorri Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (search), denied any suggestion that the gay rights movement is "trying to make the Rose Parade bow to their will."

Even if gay organizations did want to participate, Jean said, the cost might be prohibitive. Creating a Rose Parade float can run anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000.

The Family Pride Coalition, a Washington group for gay and lesbian families, has discussed participating in the New Year's Day parade but has not yet decided whether to enter a float, spokeswoman Corri Planck said.