The deputy prime minister opened an "equal marriage" reception by saying that the quotes were released in error and did not reflect his views.
Clegg's office ran into trouble at 3.00pm on Tuesday when it issued an email containing remarks he intended to make at the reception, which was held to mark the government's consultation on marriage.
It quoted Clegg as saying: "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."
Just before 4.30pm, by which time Clegg's remarks were dominating Twitter, his press office issued a "recall" email. A few minutes later a corrected email was sent. This replaced the words "gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand" with "leads some people to demand".
A spokesman for Clegg said: "This was not something the deputy prime minister has said. It's not something he was ever going to say because it's not something he believes. It was removed from the draft copy, that should never have been sent out, for that very reason."
Sources insisted that the email was not recalled after a storm started to brew on Twitter. They said that the word "bigot" had already been removed from the press release earlier in the day. An earlier draft containing the word was wrongly included.
But critics still demanded an apology. Peter Bone, the Tory backbencher, accused Clegg of having insulted millions of people "with deep convictions of religion and conscience". Bone said: "I don't see how that could have got published without it being the view of the deputy prime minister. He has got to rapidly get out there on the airwaves apologising. It is clear what he thinks. There is no way that the deputy prime minister of our country can be associated with that language."
Downing Street said it accepted that Clegg had never intended to use the word "bigot". A No 10 source said: "The prime minister is committed to getting gay marriage through by 2015."
In his speech Clegg explained why it was wrong of critics to say that same-sex marriage could not be introduced during a recession. He said: "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.
"For starters – we had 228,000 responses to our consultation on equal marriage. That's more than any other we've found in the records. The next biggest was high speed rail, at just 50,000. Not everyone in those 228,000 will be pro, that's for sure. But you certainly can't dispute the strong feeling on both sides."
Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner who attended the 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."
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