Socialist politicians in Spain have expressed anger at a statement from the country’s Roman Catholic bishops that tells the faithful not to vote for parties that support gay marriage.

The Spanish Bishop’s Conference issued a statement earlier this week:

“Catholics may support and join different parties it is also true that not all (electoral) programmes are equally compatible with the faith and Christian demands in life.”

Socialist spokesman Jose Blanco said that many Catholics would feel ashamed at attempts by religious leaders to influence March’s general election.

“The bishops have decided to enter the election campaign. They have decided to call for votes for the Popular Party,” Mr Blanco told Cadena SER radio.

The Zapatero government introduced full gay marriage in Spain in 2005 and the main opposition party, Partido Popular, has said it does not intend to overturn it.

However, some PP politicians have hinted they may “return” to the issue.

The Socialists and PP are only a few percentage points apart in opinion polls.

The rift between church and government in Spain shows no signs of healing.

Earlier this month the government said it would not accept “moral guardianship” from anyone.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said that the Church could no longer impose its morality on the country.

The Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, also spoke out following comments made in Madrid at a Catholic Church rally led by Cardinals and Bishops.

Clearly angry, Mr 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.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the rally on Sunday 30th December by a videolink from Rome.

He told the crowd, estimated at 150,000 people, that the family is “based on the unbreakable union of man and woman and represents the privileged environment where human life is welcomed and protected from the beginning to its natural end.”

The Archbishop of Mardid claimed that the government’s family policy was a retrograde step for human rights.