The main opposition party in Spain has made a bid for conservative and Catholic votes by promising to establish a new “family” ministry if they win the elections in March.

Addressing a rally in Toledo yesterday the leader of Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, suggested that the “traditional family” needs extra protection.

The incumbent Socialist government has legalised same-sex marriage, eased divorce laws and repeatedly clashed with the Roman Catholic Church.

A rally organised by the Church, supported by PP and addressed via video link by the Pope was held in Mardid just under two weeks ago.

An estimated 150,000 people attended.

Cardinals and the Pontiff launched a series of thinly-veiled attacks on the government, accusing it of “radical secularism,” threatening democracy and undermining the family.

58 days ahead of the March elections the Socialist party and PP are neck and neck in most polls, and government ministers are furious that the Church appears to be playing politics and tacitly lending support to the opposition.

Despite their appeals to devout Spaniards and their conservative stance, PP have not indicated they intend to amend or abolish gay marriage should they come to power.

Meanwhile El Pais newspaper reports that deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a gathering of legislators that Spain “does not need to be lectured about morals” and accused the Roman Catholic hierarchy of lacking respect for the democratic process and the government.

“This administration respects freedom of expression and the right to criticise, but it will not tolerate the ecclesiastical hierarchy lacking respect for the government and parliament and being dishonest,” she said.

Last week the Prime Minister of Spain responded to Roman Catholic leaders after they criticised government policy supporting gay marriage, easier divorces and abortion.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defended his government’s policies, saying they were supported by the “immense majority” of the Spanish population and that everyone had rights in Spain, whether they belonged to a religion or not.