The gay community is awaiting the outcome of a Court of Appeal action that will have wide implications concerning tenancy rights for gay men.

A gay man, who lived with his partner for nearly 20 years in what two judges heard was a "loving and monogamous" relationship, is at the centre of the legal battle.

Former Royal Navy serviceman Martin Fitzpatrick is fighting for the right to be recognised as legally entitled to take over the tenancy of the flat that he shared with his partner John Thompson, a silversmith.

The two men met in 1969 and had lived together at the flat from 1976 until Thompson died in 1994. The landlord, Sterling Housing Association, then served Fitzpatrick with notice to quit.

Fitzpatrick claims that he is entitled to the same tenancy succession rights that a heterosexual man or woman has under provisions in the Rent Act 1977 that cover the death of a partner.

He took his case to court, but his claim was rejected by Judge Colin Smith QC at Central London County Court on 16 May last year. But now Fitzpatrick has asked the Court of Appeal to overrule this decision.

His counsel, Jan Luba, of 2 Garden Court, told the judges: "If there was ever a case in which cohabiting gay partners should be brought under the provisions of the Rent Act, then this is it."

He said it would be difficult to find a more long-standing, devoted, loving and monogamous relationship between a gay couple than this one.

Lords Justices Waite, Roch and Ward are being asked to allow men such as Fitzpatrick to be classified as husband or wife in the eyes of the law, which would entitle them to take over tenancies.

The majority of local authorities in Greater London already allow gay men the tenancy succession rights that are sought by Mr Fitzpatrick.