Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Friday, July 13, 2007

Gibraltar court to rule on anti-gay discrimination

A lesbian couple who have been in love for 19 years are seeking a judicial review of the Gibraltar government’s decision to refuse them joint tenancy of their rented apartment.

“It is shocking that this lesbian couple has to go to court to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to deny them joint tenancy of a government-owned flat. This is clear evidence of state-sanctioned homophobic discrimination. It brings shame to the government of The Rock,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the London-based gay rights group OutRage! (pictured left with Chairman Felix Alvarez).

“Nadine Rodriguez has applied to the Gibraltar High Court for a judicial review of the non-inclusion of her partner in her tenancy agreement.

“The refusal to grant a joint tenancy means that if Nadine dies her partner will have no legal right to remain in the home they share together. She will face eviction and homelessness. This is a cruel, vindictive policy.

“After three terms in office, Chief Minister Peter Caruana has failed to provide any significant progress for Gibraltar’s gay and lesbian citizens. Same-sex relationships have no legal recognition or rights in Gibraltar. Civil partnerships do not exist. The Chief Minister is out of touch, not only with social progress in the rest of the European Union but also with greater acceptance of gay people by Gibraltar’s residents,” said Mr Tatchell.

Mr Tatchell is backing the couple’s claim for equal treatment and non-discrimination, along with the chairman of Gibraltar’s Equality Rights Group, GGR, Felix Alvarez.

Mr Alvarez notes:

“Preventing a same-sex couple from holding a joint tenancy is discriminatory and behind-the-times. Decisions of this sort are only made by politicians with narrow-minded, backward values. They insist on foisting their prejudiced thinking on other people. So long as no one does any harm to anyone else, I fail to understand why we cannot let people be themselves and help them to be happy, rather than make life more difficult than it already is,” said Mr Alvarez.

Outlining the background to the case, Mr Tatchell added:

“The case is expected to be heard in the autumn; mostly likely in September or October.

“Rabinder Singh is representing Ms Rodriguez. He is a human rights lawyer with the top London law firm Matrix Chambers, which was co-founded by Cherie Blair, wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“The leading Gibraltar law firm Hassan’s is providing legal representation locally.

“The case bought by Ms Rodriguez will allege violation of the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights which outlaw discrimination and which protect the right to privacy and family life.

“The only apparent defence the Gibraltar Government will put forward is the claim of non-discrimination on the basis that it treats unmarried straight couples equally badly. But heterosexual couples can get married and gay couples cannot. Therefore the government’s non-discrimination argument is fundamentally flawed and bound to fail.

“Despite forever proclaiming its British values and heritage, the Gibraltar Government – led by conservative Catholic politician Peter Caruana of the Gibraltar Social Democrats - does not seem to share the British values of tolerance and fair play when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities.

“It seems that Chief Minister Caruana, himself a QC, is failing to heed the common law principle of equality,” said Mr Tatchell.

Felix Alvarez of GGR expresses great anxiety about his government’s intransigence:

“It has been a long and difficult struggle for the past seven years. We have had to deal with a Gibraltar Government that has little sympathy for lesbian and gay human rights. The government’s only recent commitment has been entirely negative and hostile. It has stated that it will only introduce gay law reforms where it is legally compelled to do so,” said Mr Alvarez.

“Barely eight months ago, Mr Caruana ignored GGR’s formal representations to include sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination clauses of the new Constitution. Consequently, the new Gibraltar Constitution does not protect lesbian and gay people against discrimination.

“The Rodriguez case is important not only for Gibraltar but also for European human rights. We have supported this couple in their legal challenge against the government. GGR is prepared to help them take this case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“The disputed point of law affects not only same-sex couples, but straight couples who have long-standing relationships but do not wish to be pushed into marriage just because the Government insists it is the only way to get legal recognition and rights.

“When this case comes to court, it will challenge, for the very first time, the idea that a person can be legitimately discriminated against for not being married, especially when the law specifically disallows them from getting married. Gay and lesbian Gibraltarians are banned from marriage. It is therefore unreasonable to discriminate against them because they are unmarried.

“If we win this argument it will set a precedent that will have a huge positive impact in other European Convention jurisdictions where gay people are denied their rights.

“The Gibraltar Government needs to wake up to the fact that this kind of homophobic mistreatment is unacceptable in this day and age. We believe the European Court of Human Rights will support our view.

“I am actively encouraging this same-sex couple and others to challenge homophobic discrimination in the courts. GGR wants an end to the disproportionate and unnecessary interference in people’s private lives. We will be there to help them win.

“Given the track record of Mr Caruana’s Government, and assuming his return to power in the upcoming elections, the Rodriguez case is likely to exhaust its remedies only when it eventually gets through to Strasbourg.

“Mr Caruana often argues at the United Nations that Gibraltar should be given its human rights in the face of Spain’s now traditional claim on The Rock. But the Chief Minister seems to turn a blind eye when it comes to the human rights of his own sexual minority citizens. His attitude can only damage Gibraltar’s wish to be taken seriously by British and European political institutions,” said Mr Alvarez.