No. 7 of #50cases.
Is it okay for the law to discriminate against gay people? Before October 2000, it was much easier for it to do so. We had laws that deliberately treated gay families badly, because their families were not considered to be “traditional” and because “same-sex partners are unable to have children with each other”. But one case drastically changed the landscape for gay couples.
Hugh Wallwyn-James and Juan Godin-Mendoza lived together as a couple for twenty-nine years. They lived in Hugh’s rented flat. In 2001, Hugh died. If Juan had been a woman, he would have had the legal right to stay in their flat indefinitely but, because he is a gay man, this right was not delivered on. The landlord, Ahmad Ghaidan, succeeded in taking away that right. However, Juan pursued his case through the courts and won.
The House of Lords, the UK’s highest court of appeal, found that the existing law discriminated against gay couple. The judges said such discrimination was no longer acceptable because of the Human Rights Act. Only three years earlier, another man had brought forward an almost identical claim, but had lost his case because the Human Rights Act was not in force. This U-turn by the court shows just how important the law can be in protecting the rights of minorities.
As part of this case, Lord Nicholls said: “A homosexual couple, as much as a heterosexual couple, share each other’s life and make their home together. They have an equivalent relationship. There is no rational or fair ground for distinguishing one couple from the other.” What a relief, then, that, in the case of Ghaidan vs Godin-Mendoza, the court felt able to change its mind.