ROME, Italy (AP) -- Two leftists in Italy's ruling coalition on Wednesday outraged fellow lawmakers by placing four dolls representing homosexual couples near the baby Jesus in the official nativity scene in parliament.
The two parliamentarians from the small "Rose in the Fist" party said their gesture was to promote the legalisation of gay marriage and granting legal recognition to unmarried couples.
Bruno Mellano and Donatella Poretti placed the Barbie and Ken-type dolls in the parliamentary nativity scene, each couple lying down embraced among the shepherds witnessing the birth of Jesus.
Each of the two doll couples, which parliamentary ushers removed after a few minutes, wore miniature placards with slogans in favour of gay rights.
"This is a vulgar and unacceptable double attack against both a (national) institution as well as a religious symbol," a group of women parliamentarians of the opposition conservative Forza Italia party said in a statement.
Luca Volonte, a member of the small centrist opposition Union of Christian Democrats, called the gesture a "pure attack against the religion practised by the majority of Italians".
Italy is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and nativity scenes, featuring figures of the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals and three kings bearing gifts, are put but in many homes, squares and shops.
Some members of the opposition demanded the lawmakers be censured by the speaker of the lower house of parliament.
But even the Italian Communist Party, which supports gay rights and is also in the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, distanced itself from the action.
One communist parliamentarian called it "a grave political error" that would not help homosexuals.
The two leftist politicians carried out their gesture just before Pope Benedict, speaking to pilgrims and tourists at the Vatican, said Christmas creches were part of Christian culture that had to be defended.
In recent weeks, several state schools have decided not to erect the nativity scene. Some shops decided not to sell them, saying they were not popular or did not fit their image.
But even Education Minister Giuseppe Fioroni has criticised such schools, saying they had gone too far in banning nativity scenes which could instead be used as tools for inter-religious dialogue.
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