Gay man wins landmark decision on housing rights

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The Independent Online

Gay couples celebrated a House of Lords victory yesterday in their battle to gain equal housing rights with heterosexuals. Martin Fitzpatrick, pictured, whose gay partner died in 1994 after they had lived together for nearly 20 years, won his appeal for the same tenancy succession rights.

Gay couples celebrated a House of Lords victory yesterday in their battle to gain equal housing rights with heterosexuals. Martin Fitzpatrick, pictured, whose gay partner died in 1994 after they had lived together for nearly 20 years, won his appeal for the same tenancy succession rights.

In a case with important implications for the gay community across Britain, the law lords ruled by a 3-2 majority in Mr Fitzpatrick's favour that he was a member of his partner's "family" for the purposes of Rent Act legislation.

Lord Nicholls, who backed Mr Fitzpatrick, said: "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." Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, said it was the first time 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. The law lords clearly felt the discrimination experienced by same sex couples could not be justified."

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 died. He took his test case to the House of Lords after losing a Court of Appeal hearing in 1997.

Then the court ruled in a 2-1 judgment that Mr Fitzpatrick, who is in his late forties, could not succeed to his partner's tenancy because the law did not recognise the rights of same-sex partners. But the three Court of Appeal judges called for a change in the law and for Parliament to legislate concerning the rights of gay men and lesbians.

Mr Fitzpatrick argued he was a "spouse" of the deceased or, alternatively, that he was a member of Mr Thompson's family. He and Mr Thompson, a silversmith, 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, who used to be in the Royal Navy, looked after Mr Thompson for his last nine years after he suffered irreversible brain damage from a fall downstairs.

Lord Clyde and Lord Slynn also allowed the appeal but Lord Hutton and Lord Hobhouse dissented. Later, Mr Fitzpatrick said: "I only wish it had not taken so long and John was alive today to share this event with me."