The Canadian government has argued in a court case that the marriages of gay foreigners that took place in Canada are invalid.

The news has come as a shock to many gay American couples who chose to marry in Canada because same-sex marriage remains barred in most U.S. states and is not recognised by the federal government.

According to a Department of Justice lawyer, any marriages of foreigners preformed in Canada that are not recognised by their home government are also not valid in Canada.

The argument was made in a Toronto court case in which an un-named foreign lesbian couple are applying for a divorce in their 2005 marriage performed in Canada.

“(This) is about to, if it hasn’t already, make us look like fools on the international stage,” Martha McCarthy, a lawyer for the couple, told Reuters

“We’re the leaders of gay marriage … and the federal government is (now) saying ‘Oh, yes, sorry, we forgot to mention that for the last nine years we’ve been marrying people that we didn’t think those were valid'”.

There is now confusion if the lawyer’s argument is government policy and if a court ruling on the matter would affect other similar marriages.

Canadian LGBT rights groups urged people and the gay community not to panic in a joint statement on the matter.

“No one’s marriage has been invalidated or is likely to be invalidated. The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential,” said Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Freedom to Marry.

“No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.”

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Canada in 2005, with thousands of gay and lesbian American couples crossing the border to marry in that country.

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