ROME (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people paraded noisily through several European cities on Saturday to celebrate Gay Pride, calling for same-sex marriage to be legalised, even as a backlash led by a mainly conservative Catholic lobby grew.
In Rome, gay, lesbian and transgender activists and sympathisers, dancing on floats to electronic music and waving rainbow flags, held up signs reading "In France I can now get married, when in Italy?"
"People's rights cannot be negotiated. Rome will become the capital of rights. There have been too many attacks in the last few years, too many tragedies of loneliness," the city's new centre-left mayor Ignazio Marino said.
Tanned men in sailor outfits, drag queens in jewelled headdresses, and women with nipple tassels and painted buttocks swanned past the Colosseum, many brandishing banners saying "Close down the Vatican! Guantanamo mentality".
Italy does not recognise gay and lesbian marriage or same-sex civil unions and rights campaigners have blamed the influence of the Catholic Church for hampering legislation.
A similar march took place in Zagreb, a day after Croatia's parliament received a petition signed by one-fifth of the country's voters seeking a referendum that could rule out same-sex marriage.
"We have to show that we love Croatia where we live, but it also has to show that it loves all its citizens," Marko Jurcic, one of the organisers told the rally at a downtown square after an hour-long march.
"For Marriage Equality" read a giant pink banner carried at the head of a column of the Gay Pride marchers, escorted by special police who were however less visible than in previous years.
Participants blew whistles, waved rainbow flags while some were dressed in T-shirts saying "Marriage = Marriage", and carried banners that read "We don't Tolerate Intolerance" or "Jesus also had Two Fathers."
"I can hardly wait for us to marry," Milena Zajovic, dressed like a groom, told AFP.
They would however have to overcome a strong anti-gay lobby.
On Friday, a conservative group handed to Croatia's parliament a petition with more than 740,000 signatures, in a country of 4.2 million people, seeking a referendum on whether to add to the constitution a definition of marriage as a "union of a woman and a man".
In Warsaw, thousands of marchers also called for a campaign to allow gay marriages and civil unions in conservative Poland, where 95 per cent of inhabitants are Catholics.
Austrians meanwhile turned up in the tens of thousands in their capital Vienna to support the protection of gay rights.
In France, which saw its first gay wedding at the end of May after months of sometimes violent protests, Gay Pride marchers celebrated the new legislation passed in April to recognise homosexual marriages.
Up to 15,000 people turned out for the parade in the central city of Lyon, while up to 20,000 joined in at the eastern city of Strasbourg, according to police and organisers.
However, during a reception at the Vatican of 45 French parliamentarians, Pope Francis called on the lawmakers to "amend and even repeal" the gay marriage law.