Jeremy Irons confronts past controversial comments on same-sex marriage and abortion amid criticism

Berlinale International Film Festival international jury president Jeremy Irons. (Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Facing mounting criticism, British actor Jeremy Irons confronted his history of controversial comments on same-sex marriage at the opening conference for the 70th annual Berlin international Film Festival Thursday.

The address comes after the Brideshead Revisited star was broadsided by critics after festival bosses selected him as president of its international jury panel.

Irons, 71, wasted no time in tamping down the outrage his appointment has proved a lighting rod for at the morning conference. Criticism fuelled by the bizarre comments he’s made on marriage equality in the past, Deadline reported.

In an interview with HuffPost in 2013, Irons suggested that same-sex marriage could lead to fathers marrying their sons to avoid inheritance tax.

“Could a father not marry his son?” Irons asked host Josh Zepps.

When reminded about laws preventing incest, Irons replied: “It’s not incest between men,” because “incest is there to protect us from inbreeding, but men don’t breed”.

What did Jeremy Irons say?

Irons attempted to pre-empt the dogging he may face from reporters over his anti-gay record by turning the spotlight on himself.

“I should like, not as the jury president, but on a personal level, to address various comments that I have reportedly made in the past,” he told the packed conference in Berlin, “and which have resurfaced in certain sections of the press over the past few weeks.

“I wish I didn’t have to take up time with this, but I don’t want it to continue as a distraction to the Berlinale.

“Let me make my views entirely clear on these particular subjects once and for all.

“Firstly, I support wholeheartedly the global movement to address the inequality of women’s rights and to protect them from abusive, damaging and disrespectful harassment both at home and in workplace,” he continued.

“Secondly, I applaud the legislation of same-sex marriage, wherever it has been attained.

Jeremy Irons addresses reporters at the Berlin International Film Festival jurors conference. (Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Jeremy Irons addresses reporters at the Berlin International Film Festival jurors conference. (Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“I hope that such enlightened legislation will continue to spread into more and more societies,” he added, referring to his 2013 comments.

“Thirdly, I support wholeheartedly the right of women to have an abortion should they so decide,” he said, having previously been quoted as agreeing with a pro-life advocate.

“These three human rights are essential steps towards a civilised and humane society for which we should all continue to strive.

There are many parts of the world where these rights do not yet exist, where such ways of living lead to imprisonment and even to death.

“I hope that some of the films we will be watching will address these problems. I look forward to watching films in this year’s Berlinale which will provoke us to question attitudes, prejudices and worldwide perceptions of life as we know it.

“I hope that’s put my past comments to bed. Now let us get on with ten days of enquiry and celebration.”

His lengthy address drew applause from his fellow jurors.

Actor backtracked on controversial comments on same-sex marriage. 

Following his comments in Later, speaking on Hardtalk, he backtracked slightly, claiming: “I didn’t have any opinion about gay marriage… I don’t actually have much opinion about heterosexual marriage, except I possibly think it might protect children and make it easier for children, that’s why I married my wife.”

“Gay marriage is not something I have any feelings about at all; I’m quite interested in what it does to marriage, which is why we were having this rather bizarre conversation.”

He continued to say that same-sex marriage would “change” the institution and said it had historically been about “procreation”.