Thursday, May 07, 2009

Lesbian couple to appeal in the UK over Gibraltar Government housing policy

I was pleased to read today, that the lesbian couple who were refused a joint tenancy in government housing in Gibraltar are to appeal in the UK.

Three years ago, the Gibraltar Government's Housing Allocation Committee refused to grant them a joint tenancy on the basis that they were unmarried.

Local law states that only parents, spouses and children can be included in a Government tenancy agreement.

Writing in the Gibraltar Chronicle Brian Reyes reports that lawyers for the women have argued that the decision breaches their fundamental Constitutional and human rights but this argument was rejected by the Gibraltar Supreme Court.

After the couple appealed at the Court of Appeal, it was ruled that the government was entitled to protect the ‘traditional family’ by favouring straight married couples when allocating state housing.

The couple will now argue their case in front of the Privy Council in London after being granted permission by acting Chief Justice Anthony Dudley.

Gibraltar retains a higher age of consent for gay sex than across the European Union and the UK. Similarly out of step, it also retains criminal offences such as buggery and gross indecency, which exclusively criminalise gay men.

Writing in his personal blog, Letters from Gibraltar, Brian Reyes believes it is "right that they should pursue this as far as they can".

"Gibraltar’s housing policy, which does not allow joint tenancy for gay couples, is ridiculously old fashioned. It’s not just me who says this. One senior appeals judge went as far as saying it was illegal. So yes, this case should be fought, whatever the result."

"Ridiculously old fashioned" indeed Brian... and that's not the worst of it!

The Equality Rights Group GGR Chairman, Felix Alvarez, a little while back, described anti-discrimination measures in Gibraltar as "woefully inadequate":

"Over the years, legislation on separate discrimination has been introduced and the EU and individual member states have been in the process for some time of bringing anti-discrimination measures together in a more coherent way.

This, of course, is ironic for us, since it is happening against a backdrop in Gibraltar where we hardly have any anti-discrimination law at all, and what there is, is woefully inadequate!"

Thank goodness there are some voices of enlightenment and fair play in Gibraltar!

Brian Reyes however, bemoans the huge legal costs to the Gibraltar taxpayer:

"But it is costing the taxpayer a huge amount of money.

The couple are being funded publicly through the legal assistance scheme. The government has retained senior counsel too.

Surely, someone somewhere could have come up with a better way of sorting this out without having to spend a small fortune."

I agree... it is regrettable that the Gibraltar taxpayer is being forced to pay for this legal process... money which would have been much better spent in providing affordable housing (fairly to all) or in social services, perhaps in more staff and better training for housing for the disabled.

Unfortunately, when one is up against very entrenched and 'old fashioned' views in government bureaucracy, I suppose this is a price a community must pay, in making progress, dragging neanderthal bureaucrats into a more enlightened 21st century... bringing them into step with the European Union and the UK.

The price to the Gibraltar taxpayer however, pails into insignificance I suspect, when compared to the price being paid by those who are being discriminated against purely on the grounds of sexual preference. A price in human misery... being paid by two people (and possibly others now or in the future) who are being refused from enjoying a normal life as a loving couple under the same roof in government housing... in the same way as 'normal' heterosexual couples are allowed to do.

The Gibraltar Government must be forced to accept the error of their ways, and have their ruling overturned... so I very much hope the appeal at the Privy Council in London, will be successful. Here's hoping!