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Feds vow to clarify same-sex divorce

The federal justice minister says he will look at clarifying the law to ensure gay couples from abroad who marry in Canada can also get divorced.

Rob Nicholson says he will study options to make it clear that same-sex marriages "performed in Canada can be undone in Canada."

There are now doubts about the validity of thousands of marriages conducted in Canada for same-sex couples from the United States and elsewhere following a federal twist in a Charter of Rights case launched in Ontario by two foreign women seeking a divorce.

A legal brief filed by federal lawyers denies the women are even legally married, prompting critics to charge Stephen Harper's Conservative government with rewriting the rules on gay marriage to suit its right-wing agenda.

"I think it's the radical right by stealth," Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Thursday. "I think Mr. Harper is trying to placate a certain base in his party. But it's certainly not a base that's widespread in the country and I don't think it's right or appropriate or a fair-minded approach."

The couple, identified in court records only by initials to protect their privacy, were married in Toronto in December 2005 and separated two years ago. One lives in Clearwater, Fla., the other in London, England.

Their marriage is not recognized either in Florida or the United Kingdom. As a result, they are unable to obtain a divorce in their home cities.

The federal government plans to argue in a Feb. 27 hearing in Toronto that the case should be thrown out because there is no legal marriage to dissolve.

In 2005 the Liberal government passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriage after several courts across the country had declared the practice legal. An estimated 5,000 of the 15,000 or so gay marriages performed in Canada have involved foreigners, mostly American couples.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was unaware of the details of the case Thursday morning, but stressed his government has no desire to revisit same-sex marriage.

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