(Australian Associated Press)
Sydney’s first Mardi Gras may have been marred by violence, but this year’s 40th anniversary parade will be full of love.
For the first time in the parade’s history, a same-sex couple will officially tie the knot atop one of the 200 glitzy floats winding their way through the city’s streets on Saturday night.
A record 12,300 people will march in the parade, the first since last year’s historic vote by federal parliament to legalise same-sex marriage.
Mardi Gras chief executive Terese Casu said the fact that a couple would be able to legally tie the knot during the parade highlighted how much Mardi Gras had changed since it began in 1978 when more than 50 people were arrested after police tried to stop it.
“In the beginning it started as a protest with that incredible activism and then it went into the 80s and protest was still there but it became much more about social issues including the AIDs era,” she told AAP.
“In the 90s it became much more hands in the air and it changed again. And in the 2000s I think people are re-visioning what equality looks like.
“So this year for the first time we will see weddings on our parade. Someone is getting legally married on parade this year, which is a dramatic change.”
About 250 people who took part in the first Mardi Gras will lead this year’s anniversary parade.
Dubbed the 78ers, the group will be honoured for their groundbreaking efforts that have led to Mardi Gras becoming a major international tourist attraction.
The parade’s famous Lesbian Marching Girls will also put on a dazzling display of the costumes they’ve worn over the years, while the famous AIDs float from 1985, when the disease was wreaking havoc on the gay community, will also return.
“One of the challenges for us this year with the 40th was when we look back what do we weave in, what stories do we pick up, what do we honour,” Ms Casu said.
“We’ve looked very carefully at those four decades and looked at those iconic moments, not necessarily political moments but those social moments that made change.”
More than 500,000 spectators are expected to line Sydney’s streets to take in the spectacle of this year’s parade.
Tickets for the after-party, starring 71-year-old music legend Cher, sold out weeks ago.
Ms Casu said the LGBTQI community was in a mood to celebrate big time, especially after last year’s heated debate in the lead up to the same-sex marriage vote.
“It’s a combo of marriage equality and people wanting to get out and celebrate,” she said.
“The party sold out just after Christmas and when we looked back in history we couldn’t find a time where that had ever happened before.”