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Tuesday, February 17, 1998 Published at 09:17 GMT


Lesbians lose rail pass case
image: [ On a mission: Lisa Grant (right) and partner Jill Percey ]
On a mission: Lisa Grant (right) and partner Jill Percey

A lesbian couple who accused a train operating company of discrimination have lost their case in the European Court of Justice.

BBC correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: " a setback for gay rights" (2' 20")
The court in Luxembourg ruled that different countries had different views on same-sex relationships and it was up to individual governments to enforce rules.

[ image: Jill and Lisa board a Luxembourg train to hear the judgment]
Jill and Lisa board a Luxembourg train to hear the judgment
South West Trains had refused to give a travel pass worth 1,000 to the partner of clerical officer Lisa Grant in 1995 - even though unmarried heterosexual partners qualify for the passes.

Those concessions are available to what are described as common-law spouses - provided there is a meaningful relationship, and the partners are of the opposite sex.

Ms Grant, 29, accused South West Trains of sex discrimination at an industrial tribunal in Southampton in 1995. Two years later, represented by Cherie Booth QC, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, she took the case to the European Court in Luxembourg.

Ms Grant told the judges she had been refused a pass for Jill Percey because they were both women, but she would have been given a pass if one of them was a man.

[ image: Ruling will affect recruitment, promotion, benefits, pensions, and employment legislation across Europe]
Ruling will affect recruitment, promotion, benefits, pensions, and employment legislation across Europe
Lawyers for SWT - backed by the government - said that as the firm denied travel concessions to male and female same-sex partners, discrimination was not on grounds of sex, which is covered by existing EU discrimination rules, but on grounds of sexual orientation, which is not.

Government lawyer Patrick Elias QC warned that although the current administration was opposed to all forms of discrimination, the European Court should not try to stretch existing laws to cover cases they were never designed to tackle.

The discrimination carried out by SWT was not direct sex discrimination, he said, adding: "There is a difference between what you are and what you prefer."

But Miss Booth, arguing against government policy inherited by Labour, told the court: "To say that a human being can be penalised for choosing to express their sexual identity is equivalent to saying that you can discriminate against a pregnant woman because she could have chosen not to become pregnant."

[ image: South West Trains denies discrimination]
South West Trains denies discrimination
She accused SWT, which inherited the case from British Railways when it took over the franchise in February 1996, of sexual stereotyping - "that a man lives with a female partner and a woman with a male partner and not with partners of the same sex".

However, the company says it does not want to give travel perks which encourage values it does not wish to promote.

[ image: Angela Mason of Stonewall:
Angela Mason of Stonewall: "Milestone case"
Before the ruling, Ms Grant told the BBC: "If this is what it takes to progress gay rights then that's what we have to do."

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