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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK


Landmark ruling for gay tenants

Ruling recognises status of "long term" same sex relationships

Gay couples are celebrating a House of Lords victory in a battle to gain equal housing rights with heterosexual families.

Former Royal Navy serviceman Martin Fitzpatrick, who lived with his gay partner for almost 20 years until his death in 1994, won his appeal for the same tenancy succession rights as a husband or wife.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenburg: "This case won't be the last advance for the homosexual community"
In a case marking an important advance in gay rights, the Law Lords ruled by 3-2 that Mr Fitzpatrick was a member of his partner's family, for the purposes of the Rent Act laws.

Mr Fitzpatrick, whose partner John Thompson was the official tenant of their west London flat, was served notice to quit by a housing association after Mr Thompson's death.

He took his case to the House of Lords after the Court of Appeal ruled in 1997 that he could not succeed his partner's tenancy because the law did not recognise the rights of same sex partners.

The couple had shared a devoted and monogamous relationship, meeting in 1969 and living together in the flat at the centre of the case from 1976.

Mr Fitzpatrick looked after Mr Thompson, a silversmith, for the last nine years of his life after he suffered irreversible brain damage from a fall downstairs.

'Intimate mutual love'

Lord Nicholls, allowing the appeal, said the question in the case was whether a same sex partner was capable of being a member of the other partner's family for the purposes of the Rent Act legislation.

[ image: Ruling is an advance in gay rights]
Ruling is an advance in gay rights
"I am in no doubt that this question should be answered affirmatively. A man and woman living together in a stable and permanent sexual relationship are capable of being members of a family for this purpose.

"Once this is accepted, there can be no rational or other basis on which the like conclusion can be withheld from a similarly stable and permanent sexual relationship between two men or between two women.

He added: "Where sexual partners are involved, whether heterosexual or homosexual, there is scope for the intimate mutual love and affection and long-term commitment that typically characterise the relationship of a husband and wife."

Lord Clyde and Lord Slynn also allowed the appeal.

But Lord Hutton and Lord Hobhouse delivered dissenting judgments.

While he fully recognised the strength of the argument that Parliament should change the law to give same sex partners equal rights, Lord Hutton said that only Parliament could change the law.

'A wonderful victory'

After the ruling Mr Fitzpatrick said: "I am thrilled that after a five-year battle their Lordships have taken a stand against discrimination.

"I only wish that it had not taken so long and that John was alive today to share this event with me."

Reacting to the ruling Stonewall, which campaigns for gay and lesbian equality, said it was the first time that lesbian and gay relationships had been defined as a family.

Angela Mason, executive director, said: "This is a wonderful victory for Martin and for all the lesbians and gay men in this country."

She added: "This country has lagged behind the developments. This case and the introduction of the human rights act will give a new chance for lesbian and gay partners to achieve recognition."

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