A leading gay advocacy group has written to government officials and MPs in Croatia expressing concern at delays in introducing a new law banning discrimination.

ILGA-Europe claimed that the Roman Catholic Church is trying to prevent gender identity from being included in the proposed Combating Discrimination Bill.

The group said the purpose of the new law is to fill in the gaps identified in the 2007 Progress Report on Croatia by the European Commission.

“The European Court of Justice has held that the scope of the principle of equal treatment for men and women cannot be confined to the prohibition of discrimination based on the fact that a person is of one or other sex but also applies to discrimination arising from the gender reassignment of a person,” ILGA-Europe said in a letter to supporters.

“Transgender persons face discrimination and violence due to their gender identity in everyday life.

“They are often denied right to healthcare, right to work, right to life without violence and other basic human rights. It is an obligation of the State to protect all citizens equally against discrimination.”

Despite the Croatian government granting limited partnership rights for gay and lesbian couples, homophobia remains rife in the country, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Homosexuality was legalised in Croatia in 1977, and the age of consent was equalised in 1998.

Croatia is not a member of the EU, but has applied to join and is regarded as likely to be admitted in 2009 or 2010.

However, the homophobic attitude that pervades Croatian society is an issue for some EU officials.