Canada is expected to announce changes to its Civil Marriage Act today which will stem fears about the validity of gay marriages between couples who could wed in Canada but not their home countries.

Controversy was sparked last month after a federal lawyer responded to an unnamed lesbian couple’s divorce application appearing to say that since they could not have a wedding in their home countries, Canadian law did not technically recognise their marriage.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson stepped in to allay fears, saying the government would make any necessary changes to the legislation.

He said: “The confusion and pain resulting from this gap is completely unfair to those who are affected. I want to make it clear that, in the government’s view, those marriages are valid.”

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

They were seemingly unable to divorce because Canadian law required one half of a couple to live in the country for a year before a divorce could be granted.

It was not immediately clear how serious the issue identified by the lawyer was. Advocacy 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.”

Later dubbed a “legislative gap” by Nicholson, it has been attributed to patchy drafting when Canada became one of the first countries in the world to enshrine equal marriage rights.

It affects foreign nationals whose home countries will not allow them to marry a member of their own sex.

The Ottawa Globe and Mail which originally ran the story quotes family lawyer Grant Gold, who said that when the laws were being enacted in 2005: “The euphoria of the moment might have taken over.”