The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Poland discriminated against a gay man for refusing to treat him and his partner in the same way as a straight married couple.

In the case, a gay man named as Piotr Kozak had been living with his partner TB since 1989 until 1998 when TB died. The tenancy agreement was in TB’s name and after his death Mr Kozak applied to authorities to conclude the lease agreement.

Although Poland, a deeply Catholic country, recognises some rights for cohabiting partners, authorities rejected Mr Kozak’s application on the grounds that the rights do not apply to gay couples.

Authorities and courts in the country argued that the Polish constitution defines marriage as “a union of a man and a woman” and said this justified the refusal.

They subsequently argued that the only form of cohabitation which is recognised by the law is exclusively between a man and a woman.

The European Court of Human Rights unanimously rejected this argument, ruling that Poland violated Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) by refusing to recognise cohabitation of gay partners.

It said that “de facto marital cohabitation” must be understood to include persons in a same-sex relationship.

While it accepted Poland’s constitution, the court said the country needed to strike a balance between protecting the family and human rights legislation on LGBT people.

Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, said: “We welcome this decision of the European Court of Human Rights. This is the second decision affirming that if a state provides certain rights to cohabiting different sex partners, the same rights have to be made available equally to same-sex partners.”

In 2003, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Austria discriminated against gay couples because it did not recognise same-sex partners in application of its tenancy law while recognising unmarried heterosexual partners.