Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has tried to calm the storm caused by a statement released in his name calling gay marriage opponents “bigots”.
He said he never intended to make the remarks, and said it was all an unfortunate mistake made by his officials.
He has written to the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, insisting he respects those who disagree with him over the redefinition of marriage.
The row began on Tuesday when Mr Clegg’s office gave journalists the text of a speech to be delivered by the Deputy Prime Minister later that day.
The speech called opponents of gay marriage “bigots” and accused them of using the economic crisis as an excuse for delaying the redefinition of marriage.
The speech was later amended, but the media refused to allow the incendiary remarks to be hushed up.
Mr Clegg’s letter to the churches said: “Those extracts were neither written or approved by me. They do not represent my views, which is why they were subsequently withdrawn.
“While I am a committed advocate of equal marriage, I would never refer to people who oppose it in this way.
“Indeed, I know people myself who do not support equal marriage and, although I disagree with them, clearly I do not think they are bigots. Nor do I think it is acceptable they, or anyone else, are insulted in this way.
“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.
“I hope this explanation helps clarify what happened yesterday as well as my position, and I hope that the serious error that occurred will not cause lasting offence.”
But yesterday the Daily Mail did not accept his explanation that he never intended to call gay marriage opponents “bigots”.
The newspaper said: “Does he take us for fools? After all, this is a man who is far more enthusiastic about gay marriage than the traditional kind, as he showed when he vetoed Tory plans to offer tax breaks to married parents.”
And others have said it reveals the true attitude at the top level of Government against those who believe in traditional marriage.