Zagreb: A carnival in Croatia drew outrage on Monday after participants burned an effigy of a gay couple and child, weeks after a court granted same-sex couples the right to foster children.
Huge dolls depicting two men kissing and holding a small doll resembling a child were set ablaze in front of a crowd of several hundred people during a carnival in the southern town of Imotski on Sunday.
It came just two weeks after Croatia's top court said that same-sex couples should be able to foster children, an issue that has provoked heated debate in the staunchly Catholic country.
On Monday Rainbow Families, an association of same-sex parents, said they would file a legal complaint over the event, calling it a "public incitement to hatred and violence".
"Horrifying scenes from Imotski cannot be in any way justified by carnival tradition," said the group's leader Daniel Martinovic.
President Zoran Milanovic slammed the burning in a Facebook post as a "sad, inhumane and completely unacceptable act under the disguise of carnival festivities." He called for a public apology and a urged a probe of the event.
Carnival organisers in the small town, however, defended the incident as honouring traditional values.
"We remain conservative, stick to tradition. A child should be given to a mother," one of the carnival's organisers, Milivoj Djuka, told local media.
The burning was not the first of its kind in the conservative country.
In 2018, gay and parents rights groups filed a complaint over the public burning of Croatia's first children's book about same-sex families, which also took place at a carnival.
Prosecutors rejected the complaint, arguing it was a "folk custom (at) a frivolous occasion".
While the Catholic Church plays an influential role in Croatia, the EU member state has seen a gradual liberalisation of gay rights in recent years.
Gay marriage is not legal but same-sex couples have been able to register as "life partners" since 2014, a status that carries the same rights as heterosexual married couples except when it comes to adoption.
Yet there is still active resistance and protests organised by religious groups on a range of issues from same-sex foster care to abortion rights.