Canada’s gay community cannot be blamed for being sceptical about their Prime Minister, he recently proposed abandoning same sex marriage and was this week reported to have backed laws to defend public officials and religions from dealing with homosexuals.

But Stephen Harper has denied reports of a Defence of Religions Act after the Globe Mail quoted the country’s Justice Minister Vic Toews as saying the law would be put forward as an alternative if the motion to ban gay marriages fails.

He was reported to have said: “The Prime Minister has indicated that he is bringing the matter forward, the issue of same-sex marriage, on a free vote and there may be certain options open to the government as to what the response should be in either event, whether that opening is successful or not successful,”

The article then used other sources to imply that religious groups may be granted exemptions from the law as compensation if a ban fails.

The report prompted accusations of intolerance towards the government, but Mr Harper insisted it was all just speculation.

Same sex couples have been allowed to legally marry in some parts of Canada since 2003 and all over the country since last year.

Mr Harper came to power last January campaigning to reopen the debate on laws governing same sex partnerships in the country.

Mr Harper said: “It will be a free vote and the vote will be in the autumn.”

The change in the law would constitutionally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The gay marriage law was brought in by the outgoing Liberals.

Both supporters and opponents say any vote would be very tight, especially since he does not control a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.