Judges urge law change for gay rights

Homosexual loses bid to take on dead partner's flat
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The Government promised to consider a change in housing law yesterday after the Court of Appeal reluctantly rejected a gay man's attempt to take on his dead partner's flat.

In a split 2-1 judgement, the court ruled that current laws did not protect the right of Martin Fitzpatrick to acquire the tenancy of his partner, John Thompson, but the judges called for a change in legislation.

Lord Justice Waite, rejecting Mr Fitzpatrick's appeal, was scathing about the state of the law, which only Parliament could change. "The law of succession to Rent Act-protected tenancies is, in short, arbitrary and discriminatory. No one today would attempt to defend the favour it accords, outside the marriage tie, to heterosexual relationships over same-sex households." Mr Fitzpatrick said he had won a "vital moral victory" and was determined to appeal to the House of Lords.

"As the law stood I knew I couldn't win the case, but when three judges say the law has to be changed ... it is a great thing in my favour. That one of the judges voted for me made me feel that there is a very good chance in the future for me to win this case. I do not intend to give up until I win."

Mr Fitzpatrick, 47, who spent 20 years living with South African-born Thompson in the west London flat, had claimed that he was entitled to take on his partner's protected tenancy because they had effectively lived "as man and wife" for the purposes of the 1977 Rent Act.

He also said the closeness of their relationship entitled him the tenancy as a "member of the family". The court heard how for nine years Fitzpatrick, a Dublin-born former Royal Navy serviceman, had given round-the-clock care to Thompson after the latter suffered brian damage in a fall down stairs.

When Thompson, a former silversmith, and the designated protected tenant of their flat, died in November 1994, the landlords, Sterling Housing Association, who, despite their name, are a private company, told Mr Fitzpatrick to leave.

In his ruling, Lord Justice Ward, who would have allowed Mr Fitzpatrick's appeal, stated: "In my judgment our society has shown itself to be tolerant enough to free itself from the burdens of stereotype and prejudice in all their subtle and ugly manifestations."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment said: "We will consider the terms of the judgement and will look at whether we should change the legislation." The department said it already encouraged local authorities and other social- housing providers to offer tenancies to people in similar circumstances.

However, there is no is no legal obligation on them or anyone in the private sector to do so.

Last year a Labour amendment giving gay couples the same rights as married couples was narrowly defeated after last-minute government concessions to Tory backbenchers.