Prime Minister Julia Gillard came face-to-face with same-sex marriage protesters for the first time last night after failing to slip into Luna Park unnoticed for her speech to the Sydney Institute.

Gillard last avoided protesters when she gave her Dunstan Keynote Address in Adelaide in March by using a back entrance.

But Australian Marriage Equality (AME) split the 60 or so people who came out on short notice on Wednesday night to bring the issue to the PM’s attention in two, with around 20 at the fun park’s gates and 40 at the entrance to its car park.

Protesters were armed with posters featuring real same-sex couples and families effected by the ban on same-sex marriage in Australia, with the images taken from the AME’s Potential Wedding Album project.

One of the faces of AME and GetUp!’s same-sex marriage TV commercial campaign, Battye, was also there to lend his support.

When protesters first moved to the car park entrance, police intervened claiming AME had breeched a protest agreement, and threatened to fine organisers and forcibly remove protesters if necessary.

However once AME explained that the group had no intentions of interrupting pedestrian flow or traffic, police backed off.

The two groups kept an eye on each other for signs of the PM’s arrival for the next hour, while many of those arriving to attend the Sydney Institute’s black tie event in the park’s Big Top, showed their support for marriage equality as they passed by.

Federal Sydney MP Tanya Plibersek, waved to protesters, as did former NSW Opposition leader John Brogden, while former NSW premier Bob Carr told protesters “You’ve already won”, apparently echoing the sentiments of former Liberal premier Nick Greiner, that had been made public earlier that day.

Eventually, at 7.15 pm two Commonwealth cars made a run for the park gate where the smaller of the groups had gathered.

But not before protesters had the chance to look her in the eyes, hold their posters to the windows, and ask her to “open your heart, Julia”, before the cars were whisked out of sight behind locked gates.

AME national convenor Alex Greenwich told the Star Observer that the action had been a “huge success”.

“We had 60 people put a human face to the issue of marriage equality,” said Greenwich, “Not just gays and lesbians but their family and friends too.

“Although Julia Gillard chose to pass that message very quickly, it was evident to her that we were here and it will be talked about within the Sydney Institute tonight.”

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