55 gay and lesbian couples held hands and exchanged vows on the steps of the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne yesterday.

A crowd of over 2000 people joined them, calling on the Victoria and Australian governments to follow the example of the UK and other countries and recognise gay and lesbian relationships.

The protest was one of many held across Australia yesterday, the second anniversary of federal government’s amendment to the Commonwealth Marriage Act banning same-sex marriage.

Out gay MP Andrew Olexander, who was expelled from the Liberal opposition party last year after branding them homophobic, told The Age : “Like all other Victorians, we fall in love and we commit ourselves to devoted, long-term relationships.”

He was greeted with cheers when he told the crowd of his intention to introduce a private member’s bill to grant equal rights to gay and straight couples.

Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are supported by the Democrat and Green parties in Australia, but the Labor government in Victoria claim the issue is not on the agenda. State elections will be held in November, and the Liberal opposition have surprised many by supporting gay unions.

In Queensland, maverick Liberal backbencher and former crocodile farmer Warren Entsch announced he is introducing a private bill to end inequality. He told The Australian : “If I am a veteran and come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and am suffering from a range of battlefield-related disorders, my wife is entitled to a pension.

“If I decided I wanted to invest in a wife from Russia, she would be entitled to my pension. However, if I had a homosexual partner for 15 years, I would come back having served with distinction and when I did he wouldn’t be entitled to a cracker.”

At federal level, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard has consistently opposed more rights for gay couples, despite increasing support from the grassroots and state parties.

Treasurer Peter Costello, tipped to succeed Howard as soon as he can prise him out of the PM’s office, supports an end to inequalities between gay and straight couples, but opposes gay marriage.