You have not enabled cookies! This site requires cookies to operate properly. Please enable cookies, and refresh your browser for full functionality.

LONDON, September 14, 2012 ( –  UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is desperately doing damage control after a leaked speech revealed his planned statements calling opponents of “gay marriage” “bigots.” Today he wrote to the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, assuring them he does not think they are bigots for their stand. Few who have heard the apologies, however, seem willing to believe it was a mistake.

The flap started when Clegg’s officials issued a press release on Tuesday which included a speech he was to deliver to homosexualist activists at a party for them given by the government.

“Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we ‘postpone’ the equalities agenda in order to deal with ‘the things people really care about’. As if pursuing greater equality and fixing the economy simply cannot happen at once,” Clegg was quoted as saying.

Less than two hours later, the comments had shot around the world via Twitter and email, and his office shot out a correction saying the word was used by mistake. The words “gives the bigots a stick to beat us with” were replaced with “leads some people to demand.”

“Those extracts were neither written or approved by me. They do not represent my views, which is why they were subsequently withdrawn,” Clegg wrote to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday. “While I am a committed advocate of equal marriage I would never refer to people who oppose it in this way.”

He added: “My views on this issue are no secret but I respect the fact that some people feel differently to me about marriage, often because of their religious beliefs.”

Clegg’s office meanwhile issued a statement saying the remarks were “not something he was ever going to say because it’s not something he believes.”

The term has become political kryptonite in the U.K. after it severely damaged Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s re-election campaign. Brown had used it in a side comment to aides after speaking with a woman who complained about massive influxes of foreign immigrants into her neighbourhood.

Thus even amid Clegg’s continued backpedalling, much of the damage seems to be done.

A Conservative party backbencher, MP Peter Bone, said Clegg has insulted the millions of Britons who hold “deep convictions of religion and conscience”.

“I don’t see how that could have got published without it being the view of the deputy prime minister. He has got to rapidly get out there on the airwaves apologising,” he said. “It is clear what he thinks. There is no way that the deputy prime minister of our country can be associated with that language.”

Other editorials have agreed the word was no mistake, and a hint of Clegg’s own level of tolerance. “The truth is that it is he who consistently displays the intolerance and resistance to reasoned argument that we associate with bigotry,” wrote the Daily Mail’s Steven Glover.

Clegg is the leader of the far-left Liberal Democrat party with whom Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the Conservatives, was forced to form a coalition government after the last election. It is widely held that the government’s “gay marriage” push, announced without warning last year, started with the Liberal Democrats, possibly as a result of a bargaining process. No mention was made of the agenda in any party’s campaign platform.

Many long-time conservative supporters have said that the coalition has made serious reform of the Conservative party impossible, and that concessions to the Lib Dems have hampered many of the hopes of Conservatives for this government after 17 years of Labour rule.

Dr. William Oddie, writing in the Catholic Herald, said that no matter what damage control statements come from his office, “We now know that Nick Clegg really thinks (whatever he publicly says) that those opposed to ‘gay marriage’ are bigots. That’s why their rights will be removed.”

Oddie cited expert legal opinion that has warned that should the change be made, it is not only religious ministers who will face legal trouble, no matter what the government claims.

A new marriage law, he said, “will be constructed on the assumption that those opposed are indeed bigots, and that once the legislation is on the statute book, they will have no more right meaningfully to oppose it than they would have to stir up racial hatred.”

Although Clegg says he “wouldn’t use that particular B word,” Oddie wrote, “it is pretty clear that, whether or not he physically uttered the word in public, it’s what he thinks, and probably says, in private.”