Religious groups, so often the most vociferous critics of gays and lesbians, were at the heart of a different controversy this weekend when they headed up a procession of tens of thousands at New York’s Pride.

Commemorating the anniversary of 1969’s Stonewall Riots, when angry patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against police harassment, the celebrations have become a global assertion of gay rights.

Yet leading this year’s procession in Manhattan, ahead of AIDS support groups, political activists and dancers in high heels and bikinis, were religious leaders including prominent Christians and Jews.

“We stand for a progressive religious voice,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, one of the Parade’s grand marshals and head of Beth Simchat Torah, the world’s largest predominantly gay synagogue.

“Those who use religion to advocate an anti-gay agenda I believe are blaspheming God’s name.”

Members of New York’s Roman Catholic community were also out in support.

“We see that the opinion of ordinary Catholics is changing,” observed Jeff Stone, leader of the New York chapter of gay Roman Catholic group Dignity.

“Eventually what happens at the grass roots percolates up in the church.”

Their comments follow the recent passing of a bill by New York’s State Assembly to legalise same sex marriage.

“All conventional wisdom in New York state on gay marriage is out the window,” announced City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, who was joined on the march by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials.

“I think we are really doing better than anyone would ever have thought we could be doing on this,” added Ms Quinn, who is a lesbian.

It was an assertion supported by the high turn of gays from the city’s police and fire services, as well as it’s many different ethnic groups.

Yet while many partied late into the night, undisturbed by the sight of six foot drag queens next to Buddhists with ‘Don’t block your Buddha’ signs, others were more unsettled by this year’s unlikely mix of bed-fellows.

“I thought the religious groups hijacked the parade,” said Toni, a visitor from Perth.

Thousands lined the streets of Dublin the same day, marking the end of Gay Pride Festival which highlighted civil partnership rights, anti-gay hate crimes and homophobic bullying in schools.