5,000 Canadian same-sex marriages 'not valid'

Around 5,000 same-sex couples married in Canada over the past seven years may be told their nuptials were never legally valid.

Divorce proceedings between an American woman and a British woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – have exposed a restriction in Canadian law which says that non-Canadian same-sex couples cannot marry unless gay marriage is lawful in their home states or countries.

The judge presiding over the case between the women said they could not divorce because they were never married in the first place, according to a report in The Globe and Mail yesterday.

It is now thought this restriction may apply to a third of about 15,000 non-Canadian same-sex couples who have married there since 2004, when Canada began proceedings to become one of the first nations to grant equal rights for gay marriage. It was officially legalised in Canada in 2005.

Martha McCarthy, the lawyer representing the couple, said: "It is appalling that government would be taking this position without having raised it before... All the while, they were handing out licences to perform weddings." The case will be heard at the Ontario Superior Court.

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