The United Kingdom's highest court on Monday upheld the right of gay people to take over home tenancies when their partners die. The Law Lords, a panel of judges who sit in the House of Lords, endorsed a November 2002 U.K. Court of Appeal ruling that gave gay men and lesbians the same tenancy rights as straights. They threw out an appeal against the lower court's ruling by landlord Ahmad Ghaidan, who had wanted to end the statutory tenancy of the late Hugh Walwyn-Jones, which included restrictions on rent increases. Walwyn-Jones's live-in partner, Antonio Mendoza, argued that he should inherit the tenancy--taken out by Walwyn-Jones on an apartment in Kensington, west London, in 1983--in the same way that a heterosexual partner would. Straight partners do not have to be married to inherit tenancy rights.
Announcing the ruling, which was backed by four out of five law lords, Baroness Hale said it was not long ago when people could be prohibited from entering a bar because of their sex or race. It had also been considered acceptable for a landlady offering rooms to lawfully put a "NO BLACKS" notice in her window, she said. This is now considered wrong, of course, because the sex or color of a person is an "irrelevant characteristic," she said. Hale said the guarantee of equal treatment is "essential to democracy" and this case was an example of a difference in treatment of gay and straight partners. "Everything which has been suggested to make a difference between the appellant and other surviving partners comes down to the fact that he was of the same sex as the deceased tenant," she said. She went on: "Homosexual relationships can have exactly the same qualities of intimacy, stability, and interdependence that heterosexual relationships do." Lady Hale said that unlike Lord Millett--the one dissenting law lord--she had no difficulty in applying the term "as husband and wife" to persons of the
same sex living together in a stable relationship.