The Canadian Justice Minister has reassured thousands of gay couples who have married in his country that their unions will be recognised there, but admitted there is a “legislative gap” in the rules on foreign nationals’ marriages.

A furore erupted last week after a federal lawyer responded to a lesbian couple’s divorce application appearing to say that since they could not marry in their home countries, Canadian law did not actually recognise their marriage.

Up to 5,000 marriages were thrown into doubt by the document regarding the marriage between a British and an American woman who were seemingly unable to divorce.

Now, the government has said it will ensure gay marriages held in Canada will be recognised by Canada, regardless of a couple’s home countries’ laws.

Rob Nicholson, Canada’s Justice Minister, told Reuters: “We will change the Civil Marriage Act so that any marriages performed in Canada that aren’t recognised in the couple’s home jurisdiction will be recognised in Canada.

“This of course will apply to all marriages performed in Canada.”

The question arose because Canada’s Divorce Act requires couples to have lived there for a year and to have a valid union in their own countries if they are seeking divorce in Canada.

The gay couple’s lawyer, Martha McCarthy, who played a role in the original equal marriage laws, had said Canada should introduce a law similar to one passed in California that meant when overseas gay couples were granted the right to marry in the state, they were also allowed to divorce there. She warned this would require legislative action.

Gay advocacy groups said last week the marriages were unlikely to be written off, but it appears the legal position does need to be clarified.

On Friday, the groups said: “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.”

Last week, Marriage Equality USA group called on the government to “restore Canada’s status as a world leader in equality and fairness for loving couples everywhere.”

In announcing the measures to protect overseas gay marriages, Nicholson denied claims the loophole had been part of an attempt to undermine equal marriage rights.

He said: “I want to be very clear that our government has no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage. Both myself and the Prime Minister consider this debate to be closed.”