Gay and lesbian rights activists in Canberra held a colourful demonstration in the city centre last weekend to protest the federal government’s move to block civil unions in the ACT.

About 160 protesters displayed flags from nations that recognise same-sex relationships as they marched through central Canberra on Saturday.

It was mostly people from the queer community in Canberra, a lot of people who wanted a civil union and who’d really got their hopes up that they’d be able to get one when the bill was passed, and who are very surprised that the [federal] government is trying to block the bill, protester Farida Iqbal from Community Action Against Homophobia told Sydney Star Observer.

The Greens and ACT activist organisations Queer Action and Good Process were among other groups at the protest.

Joseph Delaney from Queer Action told the Star he was pleased with the turnout and the absence of opposition.

The protest route through central Canberra included a demonstration outside the office of Liberal ACT senator Gary Humphries, whose party has threatened to stymie the civil unions bill.

Iqbal said the protesters wanted to not just support the bill but to defend the bill from the attack from the federal government.

A spokesperson for ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope told the Star the chief minister welcomed last Saturday’s demonstration.

Obviously there’s a sentiment out there in the community that you ought not to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexuality, the spokesperson said.

Stanhope announced his plans for the same-sex civil unions law last year.

After he put the Civil Unions Bill before parliament last month, the federal government said it would oppose it because the proposed law tried to equate same-sex partnerships with marriage.

Stanhope is now taking legal advice on how the bill might be amended. The planned legislation is due to be debated in ACT parliament in early May.

Activists are now planning a second civil unions march in Canberra on 29 April, in the lead-up to the ACT parliament debate.

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