TWO same-sex couples tied the knot yesterday in a mock wedding ceremony to launch a gay rights campaign.

Durham University's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association (LGBTA) staged the stunt on Kingsgate Bridge, in the shadow of the city's cathedral, to launch a week of events designed to raise awareness of gay issues.

Georgia Rooney, 21, of The Wirral, who is studying philosophy, exchanged vows with English student Milly Shaw, also 21, from Cambridge.

The mock service conducted by fellow student John Bennett also saw Richard Freeborne, a 20-year-old music student from Hertfordshire, commit himself to Tristan Osborne, 21, from Kent, who is reading natural sciences. The participants were gay but not in relationships with their "spouses".

The event saw 82 balloons released - one for each country that still outlaws homosexuality. Seven were black, representing countries such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where same-sex relationships are punishable by death. Mr Freeborne said homosexuals still faced discrimination in this country despite an apparent greater tolerance.

"There is discrimination in the workplace but it is not open. Contracts may not be renewed because someone is gay. There is office banter."

Ms Rooney said: "We still do face a lot of discrimination."

Although the Government is proposing a Civil Partnerships Bill for gay couples, the association claims this would not put them on the same footing married heterosexual couples.

It is campaigning for civil weddings that would give gays the same status. Association spokesman Chris Henderson said: "I think the Government is worried about a religious backlash but we are not asking to get married in church."