Adoption right backed by Lords and tenancy ruling endorses gay rights

Adoption right for unmarried couples backed by Lords

In the House of Lords on Tuesday 5th November 2002 peers voted by 215 to 184, a majority of 31 to allow unmarried and gay and lesbian couples to adopt children during an impassioned four-hour debate on the Adoption and Children Bill. In October, peers rejected the move but were asked to reconsider when MPs on Monday overturned the previous vote.

Supporters of the clause widening adoption, including junior health minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, stressed the issue was about children’s rights not parents’ rights. The move to allow unmarried and same sex adoption was added to the Bill in the Commons by the Health Select Committee chairman David Hinchliffe, and later supported by the Government.

The result was seen as a blow for family values campaigners led by Tory health spokesman Earl Howe. Tory peers’ leader Lord Strathclyde described the result as disappointing adding that it was “close, but decisive”. He stated: “I hope that in the fervour to promote more adoption outside marriage the needs of vulnerable children for a stable, lifelong background will still be remembered. “When the campaigning caravan moves on to the next issue we must not forget these children.”

Tenancy ruling endorses gay rights

Also on 5 November in the Court of Appeal, judges ruled that sexual orientation is no grounds for discrimination in a ruling endorsing the tenancy rights of gay couples. The Court of Appeal ruling will give same sex partners equal rights to heterosexuals to take over tenancies when their spouses die. The decision was being hailed as a landmark victory for gay rights.

During the case, the first to be decided using human rights legislation, three judges agreed it would be inappropriate for the court to discriminate against gays and lesbians. It could mean that many claims by homosexuals involving inheritance, property and family matters will have to be revisited by the courts, said lawyers. Sexual orientation is now clearly recognised as an impermissible ground of discrimination

Russell Conway, a solicitor representing a gay man who faced losing his home when his partner, the tenant, died, said: “This is a sensational judgment because the Court of Appeal has put itself above parliament and rewritten an Act. “This is exactly what the Human Rights Act was designed to do.”

Hugh Walwyn-Jones was granted a tenancy on a west London, flat in 1983 and shared it with his partner Antonio Mendoza. When Mr Walwyn-Jones died, landlord Ahmad Ghaidan wanted to end the statutory tenancy which is subject to rent rise restrictions. A west London County Court judge ruled that although Mr Mendoza was entitled to an assured commercial tenancy at the market rate, he could not have a statutory one because the Rent Act precludes the succession of same-sex partners.

Legal interpretation

Paul Staddon, representing Mr Mendoza, argued that to give a statutory tenancy to the survivor of a heterosexual relationship when the survivor of an equivalent homosexual relationship was limited to the less beneficial assured tenancy, constituted discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Lord Justice Buxton, who acknowledged the inconsistency, said: “Sexual orientation is now clearly recognised as an impermissible ground of discrimination.” To set the record straight on the breach of the Convention in the Rent Act, the judge said the words “as his or her wife or husband” would also have to mean “as if they were his or her wife or husband”. He stressed that parliament had already removed the requirement that heterosexual partners must be married to inherit tenancies.

Lord Justice Keene said that in cases involving discrimination against a minority group, the courts had to be satisfied that there was a rational justification for the legislation. “It is indeed a classic role of the courts to be concerned with the protection of such minority rights,” he said. “That being so, this court is entitled to ask whether there is any rational and proportionate basis for the distinction. “For my part, I am not satisfied that any such basis has been established.”

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