NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade took place Monday without Mayor Bill de Blasio marching along with the crowds of kilted Irish-Americans and bagpipers amid a dispute over whether participants can carry pro-gay signs.
The world's largest parade celebrating Irish heritage set off down Fifth Avenue on a cold and gray morning, the culmination of a weekend of St. Patrick's Day revelry.
PHOTOS: St. Patrick's Day Parade
"Just a lot of people having a good time," spectator Mike Ambrosio told CBS 2's Janelle Burrell.
"Very proud to be Irish," said spectator Caroline Doherty. "Very proud."
Crowds Line Fifth Avenue For NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade
"We have breakfast, we come here," parade goer Tina O'Keeffe said. "The awesome music, the firemen with the flags."
"It's kind of cool to see everyone come out and have so much spirit but as an Irish American it's really cool," Megan Cockroft told CBS 2's Tracee Carrasco.
But for the first time in decades, the parade stepped off without the city's mayor.
NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade Marches Up Fifth Avenue Amid Controversy
De Blasio boycotted the parade because organizers said marchers were not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Also missing were members of the city council and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who got the state to pass same-sex marriage, but hasnt marched in years, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.
"They're more than welcome to march, just not under their own banners," parade chairman John Dunleavy told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.
"I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade, with the exclusion of some people in this city," de Blasio said last month.
Police Commissioner William Bratton marched with a contingent of uniformed officers. Gay activists protesting the exclusion of official LGBT groups held a news conference before the march to say they didn't think the NYPD and others should participate in uniform.
Spectators To Line Fifth Avenue For NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade Amid Tension
"It's incredible that the whole world is decrying the homophobia of the parade, but New York's police and fire departments still think it's somehow OK to march in uniformed, official contingents with thousands of officers," Emmaia Gelman of the group Irish Queers told 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon.
"Commissioner Bratton's disregard for LGBT New Yorkers at this parade tells all of our communities that anti-discrimination laws won't protect us from the NYPD. We may have a new mayor who's interested in reform but his police commissioner is bringing ugly back," Gelman told Kramer.
Guinness beer abruptly dropped its sponsorship of New York's parade on Sunday over the controversy, saying the company "has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all."
The Dublin-based company pulled sponsorship assets, including on-air presence, parade participation and any promotional materials that weren't already printed, although the beer maker had already made a payment to parade organizers, spokeswoman Alix Dunn said.
Other beer companies have joined the boycotts, with Sam Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston's parade and Heineken following suit in New York.
LGBT Groups Protest NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade
"This year, there's a shift. The sponsors have decided to withdraw their sponsorship, like Guinness and Heineken, the mayor's not marching, the parade is out of step with what is happening in Ireland," protestor J.F. Mulligan told Adams. "We're hearing that from the Irish elected people, we heard that from the LGBT groups in Ireland. So my message today is they should honor Ireland of today and I want to celebrate my Irishness. As a gay man, I should be allowed to do that."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who greeted passing dignitaries in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, said he supports the participation of individual gays.
"I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade,'' he said. "I know it. And I'm glad they are.''
Dolan noted that he's not part of the parade leadership and therefore not responsible for who participates. He declined to comment on the mayor's boycott.
"I'm just hoping this is a day of unity and radiance and joy, I hope, bringing us all together,'' Dolan said.
Many New Yorkers seemed split over the controversy.
"Regarding the mayor marching, he has his own free will, he can do as he pleases," one parade goer told CBS 2's Kramer.
"I feel they should be able to march, but not under their own banner like everybody else," said another.
Earlier Monday, de Blasio held the traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, who joined the parade, saying the holiday is about Irishness, not sexuality.
De Blasio addressed several hundred people at the breakfast, many of Irish descent. He said in a toast that New York is a "city of immigrants'' and residents "never forget'' where they came from.
New York's 253-year-old parade draws about 200,000 participants every March 17 and has long been a mandatory stop on the city's political trail.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.