Gay partner bids for tenancy equality

Roger Pearson previews a case in which the Law Lords will focus on the tenancy succession rights of homosexual partners. The Law Lords are to probe the question of the legal status of gay couples who live together.

The case, which centres on property succession rights, is one of major importance to the gay community throughout the UK and could have far-reaching implications.

Lords Justices Browne-Wilkinson, Nicholls and Hutton have given leave for a homosexual whose partner died after the two had lived together for 18 years to challenge county court and Appeal Court decisions that he was not entitled to the tenancy succession rights enjoyed by spouses or family members.

The case involves Martin Fitzpatrick who met his partner in 1971 and moved into a rented flat with him in 1976. But the partner later suffered head injuries causing paralysis and Fitzpatrick nursed him until he died of a stroke in 1994.

When Fitzpatrick sought to take over the tenancy of the flat which was in his partner's name he was refused.

The refusal of the tenancy was upheld by the Central London Magistrates Court and the Court of Appeal which held that Fitzpatrick was not entitled to be regarded in the eyes of the law either as a 'surviving spouse' under the terms of the Rent Act 1977, or as a member of the deceased's family.

Classification as a surviving spouse would have entitled him to the statutory tenancy to which spouses are entitled. Alternatively, if he had been given the status of a member of his dead partner's family he would have been entitled to an assured tenancy.

In reaching their decision in the Court of Appeal, Lords Justices Wait and Roch, with Lord Justice Ward dissenting, ruled that if Parliament had intended homosexual partners to be regarded as 'spouses' it would not have worded the Act in the way it did.

And they held that Fitzpatrick's claim that he should be treated as a member of his dead partner's family also failed.

They ruled that to allow that claim would result in discrimination against those such as friends of a deceased person whose friendship and devotion was not the result of a sexual relationship.