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The federal cabinet is considering making a change to its draft legislation on same-sex marriage-which could delay a ruling on the issue by the Supreme Court until after the next election.

Currently, the draft legislation is before the Supreme Court of Canada for consideration. It was referred to Canada's highest court last June for an opinion on whether it would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ottawa originally sent a set of three questions on gay-and lesbian marriages.

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But Friday, both Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and Prime Minister Paul Martin indicated there is a chance that a fourth question on civil unions could be added for consideration-leading to a likely delay on the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Prime Minister has indicated several times that there could be a broader scope to the questions that are currently being considered by the Supreme Court. He has suggested that the high court create another category for civil unions among gays and lesbians, as well as same-sex marriages.

The possible change could mean that the high court won't make a decision on the draft proposal until after an anticipated spring federal election.

But both Prime Minister Paul Martin and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler were not clear on whether a new referral to the Supreme Court is coming soon, or what the referral would contain.

"We will be discussing the question of the same sex reference, separately," the Justice Minister said. "We have not decided to ask for the time-being to ask other questions to the Supreme Court.

"I will discuss this issue with my colleagues at the next meeting we have."

Mr. Cotler denied that the government was taking too long in putting forward a fourth referral.

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"We're not wasting any time. I have to canvass views of my colleagues in order to make sure I give expression of their views."

He also said that it is possible the draft legislation will not change.

"It's possible that it will proceed in its current form, I don't want to speculate about what it might be. I want to respect the kinds of inputs about what we are engaging."

Mr. Martin said the decision on the change is up to Mr. Cotler.

"This is basically a decision that will be taken by the Justice Minister of Canada.

Last June, the government submitted the draft legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada, asking the court to determine whether it is constitutional.

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However, the bill is not expected to be tabled in the House for another year, possibly months after a federal election. Expectations are that Mr. Martin will call an election some time next spring, and some Liberal MPs are concerned about same-sex marriages becoming a tricky election issue.

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