Nick Clegg is rejecting claims he was prepared to brand opponents of equal marriage “bigots” at a reception for the LGBT community. In an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk the deputy PM also defended changes to the Government Equalities Office and the new Culture Secretary Maria Miller.
Shortly before yesterday’s address to a large audience consisting of campaigners, politicians and celebrities including Stephen Fry, Hugh Grant and the actor Simon Callow, the Lib Dem leader found himself engulfed in a political row.
It was after aides had to remove comments in the draft version of his speech that called opponents of the government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage “bigots”.
Speaking, at the reception in Carlton Gardens, Westminster, Mr Clegg insisted that he never intended to use such language as it was “not the kind of word” he would use.
Mr Clegg told PinkNews.co.uk that the event was to “mark a really important step towards what I hope will be legislation which will give equal rights to marriage for same-sex couples.
“There has been a land mark, if you like, [the government] has had this public consultation, the deadline has closed…the government is now sifting through 228,000 responses, and we will be making our views known about where we are going to get to next on this by the end of the year.
Mr Clegg added: “My own personal view is of course extremely well known, I am a very staunch advocate of legislation to enshrine equal marriage for all, and that’s very much what I hope we will do.
When asked about last week’s decision to move the Government Equalities Office (GEO) from within the Home Office to the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS), Mr Clegg said:
“This happens from time to time, to be honest there is no hard and fast rule that it should stay in the Home Office…and we all felt the combination of Maria Miller, Helen Grant at the DCMS and the Liberal Democrat Equality Minister Jo Swinson from the Business department would be a very effective team to promote this agenda”.
The decision to hand over responsibility of the GEO to Culture Secretary Maria Miller caused widespread alarm from several equality campaigners due to the Conservative MP’s poor LGBT voting record. In a move designed to reassure the LGBT community Mrs Miller told last weekend’s Sunday Times that she fully supports the government’s position on same-sex marriage.
In a further display of cross-party unity, Mrs Miller attended last night’s reception that was widely seen as a Lib Dem organised event.
When asked if Mrs Miller would find it problematic dealing jointly with media policy and then turning attention to areas such as homophobic crime, Mr Clegg replied:
“I don’t think that is an issue at all. Frankly, whatever department these issues are located in, the fact that people at the top of the government, myself and others, are keen and advocate supporters of this agenda means it won’t fall off anyone’s radar screen no matter which department it’s located in”.
Mr Clegg was also asked about the departure from government of openly gay Conservative ministers Crispin Blunt and Nick Herbert. Mr Clegg rejected suggestions that it was lowering the profile of LGBT political representation and pointed to the cabinet return of gay Lib Dem MP David Laws:
“I don’t think cabinet should be judged exclusively by the number of openly gay cabinet ministers around the table.
Mr Clegg concluded: “I think it is incredibly important that the values of all ministers around the cabinet table are tolerant, liberal and open, and that’s exactly what I think is the centre of gravity around the top of the government”.