The former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien, has admitted that he was “stunned” by court rulings legalising gay marriage.

In 2003, the last year of Chretien’s premiership, eight out of ten Canadian provinces legalised gay marriage through a series of court rulings.

The Liberal ex-Prime Minister told Canadian Press: “I was caught by surprise. At the time I was 69 years old, you know, and this way of living was not very (much) a part of my culture.”

Chretien went on to explain that he did not object to gay rights or civil unions, but that he thought using the term “marriage” was a step too far.

Gay couples have had access to most rights associated with marriage since 1999.

“Nobody objected basically to having a contract between the partners, there was no problem with that.

“It was when they used the word marriage, that got (to) rubbing people on the wrong side, including me . . . The courts said you have to call it marriage.”

He said that despite being unhappy about the situation, he never considered asking Parliament to override the rulings.

The current Prime Minister, Conservative Stephen Harper, is known to have thought about using the override power to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Harper eventually backed down from that position.

Chretien told Canadian Press that Parliament would be justified in using the notwithstanding override clause of the constitution to ban child pornography.

But in this case he said that legislators had to respect the “power of the people.”

He seems to have accepted the matter over time. Chretien said: “When you write the laws, sometimes you’re surprised at the way the courts interpret the laws. But that’s why they are there.”

Same-sex marriage was cemented in law throughout Canada in 2005 by the Civil Marriage Act.

However, the Act also protects religious institutions from performing gay weddings if it goes against their beliefs.