Gays win the same rights as married couples

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The Independent Online

Same-sex couples yesterday secured the right to be treated as husband and wife in a landmark ruling for gays under the Human Rights Act.

Same-sex couples yesterday secured the right to be treated as husband and wife in a landmark ruling for gays under the Human Rights Act.

In settling a long-running legal battle, the House of Lords rejected an appeal by a landlord who claimed a gay man could not inherit the tenancy rights of his partner after he died.

In their judgment four out of five law lords said a gay couple had the same legal rights as a married couple.

Baroness Hale, in the lead judgment, said: "Homosexual relationships can have exactly the same qualities of intimacy, stability and inter-dependence that heterosexual relationships do."

Lady Hale said she had no difficulty in applying the term "as husband and wife" to persons of the same sex living together in a stable relationship.

The legal challenge centred on a relationship between Antonio Mendoza and Hugh Wallwyn-James, who shared a London flat for 19 years. Mr Wallwyn-James died from cancer in 2001 and the landlord served notice of his intention to repossess the couple's property.

Mr Mendoza resisted the repossession saying he should inherit the tenancy as would a partner of the opposite sex.

Lady Hale, in her ruling, said it was not long ago that it was considered acceptable for a landlady offering rooms to lawfully put a "no blacks" notice in her window. This was now considered wrong because the sex or colour of a person was "simply irrelevant".

She said the guarantee of equal treatment was "essential to democracy".

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, upholding the Court of Appeal judgment of 2002, said the question the case asked was whether the phrase in the Rent Act "as his or her wife or husband" can survive the coming into force of the Human Rights Act.

These words were applied to those eligible to inherit tenancies and the law lords were told the aim of the Act was to provide protection for the traditional family.

"A homosexual couple, as much as a heterosexual couple, share each other's life and make their home together. There is no rational or fair ground for distinguishing the one couple from the other in this context."

Lord Millett, the dissenting Law Lord, said the words "the opposite sex" are "unmistakably implicit".

"The parties are not required merely to live together but to do so as husband and wife."

The government has already promised to change the law to give same-sex couples the legal rights and responsibilities of their married counterparts.

The Civil Partnership Bill introduced last year will allow gay and lesbian couples to sign an official document at a register office in front of the registrar and two witnesses. Couples who register will have new legal status as "civil partners".

The legislation will also enable same-sex couples who have registered their relationship to dissolve the agreement in a form of divorce.

Those who register their relationship will be able to benefit from a dead partner's pension, be granted next-of-kin rights in hospitals and exempted from inheritance tax on a partner's home. They would also have the right to register their partner's death and be able to continue tenancy of a property.