The leader of Canada’s Conservative Party would overturn the country’s gay marriage laws if elected prime minister in January’s federal election.

Conservative Stephen Harper said he would hold a conscience vote in parliament on the issue if his party won government.

Gay marriage was legalised across the nation this year after Prime Minister Paul Martin instructed all ministers and parliamentary secretaries in his Liberal Party to vote in favour of the legislation.

It will be a genuine free vote when I’m prime minister. I will not whip our cabinet, Harper said, CTV News reported.

I would simply ask the House of Commons in a motion whether they want to table legislation on the marriage issue to change the definition of marriage, he said. If the motion is defeated, we won’t proceed.

If the motion passed Harper said marriage would be redefined to being between a man and a woman, but he would allow existing same-sex marriages to continue.

About 3,000 same-sex marriages have been performed across Canada, CTV News said.

This week parliament was dissolved after a vote of no confidence in the minority Liberal government, forcing an election. All 308 seats in the lower house are up for grabs.

The election will be held on 23 January.

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