British deputy PM in row over gay marriage jibe
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg faced criticism Wednesday after he was forced to withdraw a planned speech in which he called opponents of gay marriage "bigots".
Liberal Democrat leader Clegg was due to make the barb during a speech at a reception in London late Tuesday, extracts released by his office beforehand revealed.
According to the press statement, Clegg was to say that "continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we 'postpone' the equalities agenda".
But an amended version was released an hour later which replaced the word "bigots" with "some people."
The under-fire party leader insisted that the original release had been sent out in error and assured guests at the event in central London that he would never use such "insulting" language.
"I am a little bit surprised to see cameras assembled outside the gates, for the slightly obscure surprising reason that they expect me to use a word about opponents of gay marriage that I had no intention of using, would never use," he said.
"It is not the kind of word that I would use... While I stridently disagree with those who would block moves towards equal marriage, I never seek to engage in debate in insulting terms."
Former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said words used in the original press release were "very offensive".
"If he persists in taking that view I and others would be very offended," he told the BBC.
The Liberal Democrats are the junior partners in a coalition government headed by the Conservative Party.
Plans to introduce same-sex marriage by 2015 have caused unrest within the government with the right-wing of the Conservative party threatening to scupper the bill.
Conservative lawmaker Peter Bone accused Clegg of insulting "millions of people with 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 said. "He has got to rapidly get out there on the airwaves apologising."
The row dominated the front pages of Britain's right-wing newspapers on Wednesday.
The Daily Mail ran with the headline "Fury over Clegg 'bigot' slur on gay marriage opponents" and the Daily Telegraph splashed "Clegg in gay marriage 'bigots' row" across its front page.
© 2012 AFP