So it was in an attempt to set the record straight that the minister took to the airwaves on Sunday. Denying that he was intolerant of sexual minorities, he told Swedish Radio’s Ekot programme “I had a wonderful aunt who lived in Canada with a horse. I thought it was wonderful. Let people live as they wish.”
Orback’s comments have done nothing to endear him to gay rights campaigners.
“By linking gay love with sex between animals and humans, he is knowingly playing with the oldest and darkest prejudices about homosexuality,” Martin Andreasson, the Liberal chairman of the Riksdag’s gay issues committee, told Dagens Nyheter.
With much of Sweden under the impression that Orback’s aunt had enjoyed intimate relations with a member of the animal kingdom, the lady in question would no doubt have been relieved to hear that the minister tried to save her honour. He denied the relationship had any Jerry Springer overtones, and stressed that it was purely platonic.
Speaking afterwards to Aftonbladet, Orback said that he regretted making the comments, and strongly refuted accusations of homophobia.
“It is absurd to call me a homophobe,” he said. “Many of my best friends and relatives are gay.”
Perhaps having heard that line a little too often in the past, Orback’s critics were not satisfied. Writer America Vera-Zavala, one of those accusing Orback of homophobia before his controversial comments, told Aftonbladet:
“Orback has clearly not understood our criticisms at all. One of his duties should be to support different types of families – that does not include living with a horse.”
The furore surrounding Orback’s comments caused many commentators to question Göran Persson’s choice of the former television presenter for such a sensitive position.
Svenska Dagbladet columnist Anders Jonsson wrote that bringing the media-friendly and photogenic Orback into the government was supposed to be a popular success. Now Orback’s lack of judgment was demonstrating that a government minister needs very different skills to a journalist.
Perhaps more ominous for Orback was criticism from the Green Party, on which the Social Democrats rely for parliamentary support. Green MP Gustav Fridolin told Aftonbladet that he was becoming “ increasingly perplexed about which skills Jens Orback possesses that qualify him to be in the government.”