By Clara-Laeila Laudette
MADRID, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Spain's new leftist government accused the far right on Tuesday of eroding children's right to education and promoting ignorance in response to attempts by the region of Murcia to uphold a divisive "parental veto" on sex education.
The ultra-conservative Vox party, which emerged as Spain's third largest political force in a parliamentary election in November, catapulted the issue of whether parents can prevent children from attending classes on sex and relationships to the forefront of public debate.
It has long argued that such classes encourage pupils' interest in homosexuality and transgender identity.
Murcia is one of three Spanish autonomous regions which saw Vox enter power via alliances with conservative and centre-right parties last year, a strategy which has enabled it to influence policy both within local coalitions and on the national stage.
"There are parties that do not want free men and women to educate us freely," government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said on Tuesday during a press briefing. "The right-wing sees ignorance and inability as freedom."
On Monday, Education Minister Isabel Celaa threatened to take legal action against the region if it fails to "restore legality" and remove the parental veto within a month.
However, Murcia regional government leader Fernando Lopez Miras said on radio channel Cadena Ser on Tuesday "the freedom and rights of parents within the region ... are non-negotiable".
"The ideological neutrality of teachers in Murcia region is unquestionable," said Lopez Miras, of the conservative People's Party (PP). "The parental veto gives parents freedom."
The PP, one of Spain's largest parties, has also veered to the right on the subject, with its Secretary General Teodoro Garcia Egea accusing Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of seeking to "indoctrinate children with compulsory, extracurricular workshops".
Rights groups have been particularly critical of Vox's attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights that have undermined years of political consensus on the issue in Spain, which in 2005 became only the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage.
Spaniards rank among Europe's most supportive when it comes to LGBT rights, with the Pew Research Center recording 77% of citizens either supported or strongly supported same-sex marriage in 2018. (Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Nick Macfie)
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