By KELLY DOHERTY
SYDNEY (AP) Australia’s political leaders were lampooned for their opposition to gay marriage as hundreds of thousands of revelers crammed inner Sydney streets Saturday for one of the world’s premier gay and lesbian parades.
Some 300,000 spectators in sidewalk throngs often 10 to 15 people deep turned out for Sydney’s 34th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.
Caricatures of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a wedding gown and opposition leader Tony Abbott in a Speedo _ giant paper mache puppets with 5-foot (1.5-meter) -tall heads sometimes locked in carnal clinches — were a highlight underscoring opposition to Australia’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Both leaders’ parties oppose calls for gay marriage. The federal government passed a law in 2004 to ensure that only marriages between a man and a woman can be legally recognized in Australia.
But the political debate was revived this week with the government considering allowing the national capital Canberra’s local government to create its own gay marriage law.
Openly gay Hollywood star Lily Tomlin was among well-known gay advocates who kicked off the party with a superhero theme. Tomlin rode on the back of a convertible, waving rainbow butterfly wings.
Christian opponents of the parade held a vigil in downtown Sydney several blocks away from the festivities to protest same-sex marriage. Pastor Peter Madden, a vigil organizer, said the Mardi Gras should be held in a stadium instead of on inner Sydney streets.
“It’s having a dangerous impact on our youth,” he said.
Popular motorcycle groups “Dykes on Bikes” and “Boys on Bikes” rallied the crowd before the parade’s official start. Supporters from “First Australians,” an Aboriginal group, were the first to march.
Extravagant works of pageantry dominated Oxford Street — a gay bar and nightclub strip in Sydney’s inner east — as 135 floats and nearly 8,500 participants danced, sang, and cheered their way along the route.
Spectacular and outrageous costumes didn’t seem to hold any of the marchers back.
Kim Gotlieb, who sported a pink feather bikini and very tall clear peep-toe heels, said he had some help from a friend.
“This year, I found a real drag queen to help me out,” he said, performing some high kicks for spectators. “I’ve never had such high heels, but I’m finding I’m quite comfortable in them and the crowd loves it.”
This year, instead of a solitary theme, parade officials urged participants to “Say Something” with their floats, performances, signs and attire. Same-sex marriage emerged as the popular issue, highlighted by the Gillard/Abbott stunt as well as many wedding-themed floats and costumes — including a British royal wedding display.
“It’s the biggest wedding of the year and we thought, well, with the theme of equal marriage it was the best connection,” said Gareth Ernst, dressed as Prince William for the “We Love Willie Monarchial Collective” float. Six men dressed as “rubber clad ponies” pulled a golden chariot with members of the royal family, including soon-to-be princess Kate Middleton, being played by a transsexual, Ernst said.
A wide array of careers and organizations were represented, including police and firefighters, banks, defense, medical workers, and even religious groups. Many marched in uniform while others dressed flamboyantly, but all cheered and waved to onlookers, displaying their pride. A nudist group even donned some clothing — barely-there thongs— to come out and show support.
Global organizations joined in the revelry as well, with impressive floats, dancing and costumes from groups in other countries including Thailand, India and Scotland.
Along with same-sex marriage, diversity in the workplace and equality for all was the message from many.
“We value every voice and encourage everybody to bring their personality and themselves to work,” said ANZ Bank business development manager Malcolm Jull, who donned a white and metallic cherub dress with wings and heavy makeup.
Music fueled the fun as tunes from Madonna, Pink, Ke$ha, Bruno Mars and many others kept the parade grooving to a funky beat.
Gay rights activism in early 1970’s Sydney was brought to action with the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978, with around 2,000 people marching down Oxford Street. Rioting ensued when police revoked the permit and arrested 53 participants.
Today the parade is known throughout the world, and is a cultural crown jewel for Sydney.
The Mardi Gras parade and the two-week festival leading up to it contribute nearly $30 million to the New South Wales economy and draw an estimated 20,000 international and interstate visitors.