The leaders of the Catholic Church in Portugal have been accused of interfering in the political process after the country’s bishops said they would fight proposals to introduce gay marriage.

Last month Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced his intention to legislate for gay marriage if his Socialist party wins the general election later this year.

After a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference in Fatima, a Church spokesman said:

“At the time of voting, Christians will certainly draw their conclusions.

“Those who involve themselves in these ventures in which the society is exposed to profound wounds, are not trustworthy.”

He added that Portugese society is “threatened” by same-sex marriage.

After accusations that the Church was targeting the Socialists, it said that the bishops merely wished to “educate” the electorate.

Gay and lesbians are entitled to full civil marriage rights across the border in Spain, thanks to the Socialist party.

Portugal’s 1975 constitution bans sexual discrimination and gay activists have argued that two women have the same right to marry as a man and a woman. Portugal’s civil code, however, bans same-sex marriages.

In October the government and opposition parties joined forces to defeat a gay marriage proposal put before parliament by small Green and leftist political parties who hoped to draw attention to the issue.

At that time the Prime Minister said gay marriage was not on the agenda.

In a speech last month to the Belem Cultural Centre, Mr Socrates said:

“This is the moment for the PS (Socialist party), in its national congress, to affirm its desire to propose to Portuguese society the right to civil marriage for people of the same sex.

“I also want to say that the values that inspire us when we propose this change to the Portuguese people are the values that have always been in the heart of the PS.”

The Spanish government under Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has had a tense relationship with the Church after it legalised gay marriage in 2005, reformed divorce laws and tried and failed to negotiate a peace agreement with terrorist group ETA in 2006.

During last year’s elections the Church was accused of interfering in the political process.

Spain’s ambassador to the Vatican met with Church officials to protest.