NICK Clegg was accused of intolerance last night after he withdrew comments, published "in error", in which he branded opponents of gay marriage bigots.

The Deputy Prime Minister was hosting a reception to celebrate the Government's historic consultation on equal marriage, which was attended by celebrity campaigners, religious figures, activists, charities and politicians.

In a press release ahead of the event, the Liberal Democrat leader was due to say: "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.

"So I want you to hear it straight from me tonight: the idea that the two are mutually exclusive is utter rubbish; a nonsense this Coalition Government will never bow to."

However, Mr Clegg's office later sent out a second press release with an apology, stating: "The last version you received was incorrect and sent to you in error. Please only quote from the text below."

The new version had expunged the word "bigots" and replaced it with "some people".

The reference to "bigots" is thought to have been an intended swipe at Tory opponents, who have suggested gay marriage is a distraction and the Coalition should be focusing on the economy.

The UK Government's consultation on allowing civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples ended in June and is due to respond by the end of the year when it is expected to follow Holyrood in backing the policy. Last night, a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: "This was not something the Deputy Prime Minister has said. It is not something he was ever going to say because it is not something that he believes. It was removed from the draft copy, that should never have been sent out."

Earlier, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said the remarks were "very offensive", adding: "If he persists in taking that view, I and others would be very offended."

Labour's Thomas Docherty, who represents Dunfermline and West Fife, said: "This is a government which is so incompetent they cannot even put out a press release properly."

However, Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, who was due to attend last night's reception, said: "It is pretty clear that some people oppose marriage rights for gay people because of deep-seated homophobic bigotry. Nick Clegg should not be afraid to say so."