In a clear indication that the Catholic church’s fight over the Sexual Orientation Regulations is far from over, the Archbishop of Birmingham has urged his flock to write protest letters to the government.

A letter was read out at all churches in the diocese at Mass yesterday, telling Roman Catholics to write to their MPs about the regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

In Scotland, the bishop of Motherwell has announced he will not be voting Labour in the elections for the country’s parliament in May.

Bishop Joseph Devine, whose diocese covers the constituency of Labour’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, said he will reveal his voting intention nearer to the poll.

The SORs are expected to be approved by both Houses of Parliament this month, and should become law on 30th April, the same day that rules protecting people from discrimination on the grounds of religious belief come into force.

The Roman Catholic church threatened to close its adoption agencies in the UK rather than consider gay couples as prospective adoptive parents.

Prime Minister Tony Blair at first seemed ready to grant church-run agencies an opt-out from the regulations.

However, a Cabinet row and strong objections from most Labour MPs ensured that the Roman Catholic exemption that was finally agreed upon only lasts until the end of 2008.

The church hierarchy have so far not made clear if they will close their adoption services by 2009.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said in his letter to Birmingham Catholics that the new rules protecting gay people fail to place religious belief above the rights of same-sex couples.

The Archbishop, head of the Catholic Education Service in England and Wales, told MPs last December that faith schools have no need for policies to address anti-gay bullying.

Archbishop Nichols told the education select committee of MPs that specific issues of bullying should not be singled out, insisting that the Church had no problems with a person’s sexual orientation, but “sexual intercourse belongs within marriage.”

Archbishop Nichols is a regular feature on the news pages, and his eagerness to speak out may be related to the fact the Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is due to retire later this year.