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Thousands line Sydney streets for Gay Mardi Gras

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The Associated Press
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 10:10 AM

SYDNEY -- 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.

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