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Partnership Rights

DW staff (kjb)April 1, 2008

Same-sex partners have a right to the other's pension in the case of death, the European Union's highest court has said. The ruling, however, only applies in member states where gay partnerships are legally recognized.

Gay couple and an EU flag
The EU court said no to discrimination but left the rest up to national governmentsImage: PA/dpa/DW

The European Court of Justice in Luxemburg ruled on Tuesday, April 1, that, "A life partner of the same sex may be entitled to a survivor's pension under an occupational pension scheme."

The decision only applies in EU countries with gay partnership laws and it will be up to the national courts to decide "whether a surviving life partner is in a situation comparable to that of a spouse," the court said in a statement.

The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany welcomed the ruling.

"Now the German courts only have to decide whether life partners are comparable to spouses in this case, and that can hardly be denied," the organization's spokesman Manfred Bruns told the Associated Press.

German took pension case to court

Rainbow flag
Gay partnership, but not marriage, is recognized in GermanyImage: AP

The case was initiated by Tadao Maruko, who was in a registered partnership under German law with a costume designer. When his partner died in 2005, Maruko was denied his pension and took the matter to a German court, which passed it on to the EU court.

Maruko had been discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation, concluded the EU court. German law grants legal rights to life partners that are similar to those of married couples. Gay marriage, however, is not recognized in Germany.

The EU Commission welcomed Tuesday's ruling as "strengthening the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation," while emphasizing that it was up to bloc's 27 members to decide whether they would grant registered same-sex partners the same rights as married couples.

"It's not the commission or any other European institution that imposes on Germany or any other member state whether or not marriage or registered couples must be treated equally," a European Commission spokeswoman said.