U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s office tried to retract an e-mail sent to journalists that described opponents of gay marriage as “bigots,” asking them to quote from a toned-down version instead.
Clegg will today host a reception for celebrity campaigners in favor of the government’s plans to introduce same-sex marriages. Opponents include Church of England and Roman Catholic leaders, as well as some Conservative Party lawmakers, who govern in coalition with Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.
“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,’” Clegg was originally planning to say, according to an e-mail his office sent at 3 p.m.
An hour and a half later, Clegg’s office sent an e-mail to “recall” the first one, and a substitute was sent out replacing the word “bigots” with “some people.” The rest of the text, in which Clegg tells his audience they will “hear it straight from me,” was unchanged.
Bigot is a word that got former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown into trouble during the campaign for the 2010 general election. Brown was forced to apologize, calling himself a “penitent sinner,” after being caught on microphone calling a widow and self-described Labour supporter in northwest England “bigoted” following a disagreement over immigration.
The U.K. currently allows civil partnerships for gay couples, which offer most of the legal benefits of marriage. The government is asking for the views of the public on allowing them to be married in civil ceremonies, though not in church.
In April, Prime Minister David Cameron tried to heal divisions between the government and religious leaders over the gay marriage issue, telling them he welcomed a “Christian fightback” and that “the values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need.”
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, told BBC television in March that the proposals represented an “unjustified change” to the law and required the consent of the Church of England. Sentamu is a leading candidate to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican church.
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