A leading religious group in the US has criticised companies that dropped their sponsorship of a number of St Patrick’s Day parades following a ban on gay groups taking part.

The Catholic League, America’s largest Catholic advocacy organisation urged Irish groups and pubs to boycott iconic beer brand Guinness.

Guinness, along with fellow beer companies Heineken and Samuel Adams, pulled their sponsorship of last weekend’s parades in Boston and New York after organisers refused to allow gay people to march if reference was made to their sexuality.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said: “I urge Catholics, and all those who believe in tolerance, diversity, and the First Amendment, to join with me in boycotting these brews.”

Donohue, whose organisation also rallies against same-sex education in schools and subsidised contraception, claimed the protests were “contrived” and the parade was “quintessentially Catholic,” rather than a celebration of all Irish culture.

“No gay person has ever been barred from marching in any St Patrick’s Day parade, anymore than the parade bans pro-life Catholics or vegetarian Catholics; they simply cannot march under their own banner,” he said.

“It’s the religious element to these parades that is motivating Guinness to act like a corporate bully.”

Donahue added that he had given up drinking the Irish brew but “Heineken was always slop, so there is no sacrifice there.”

In a statement, Guinness’ owner Diageo said they had a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all: “We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year’s parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of US LGBTI campaign group GLAAD, commended Guinness. She said their boycott “sent a strong message to its customers and employees: discrimination should never be celebrated.”

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