Germany still treats same-sex partnerships and heterosexual marriages differently, but the EU's top court says married couples or those in registered partnerships must get the same pension benefits.
The EU says all couples must have the same pension rights
Same-sex couples in civil partnerships must receive the same pension benefits as their married, heterosexual colleagues, the Court of Justice of the European Union said on Tuesday. The judges in Luxembourg were responding to a case brought by a German man against his employer, the city of Hamburg.
Jürgen Römer was an administrative employee of the northern German city from 1950 to 1990. In 2001 he and his longtime partner registered themselves in a civil union. Römer notified his former employer that he wanted his supplementary retirement income to be recalculated based on the more favorable tax bracket for workers in heterosexual marriage but was denied. That denial meant about 300 euros ($432) less each month in pension for Römer and his partner.
Römer worked for the city of Hamburg for 40 years
The EU has banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the court found that the lower pension could contravene EU law.
"A supplementary retirement pension paid to a partner in a civil partnership, which is lower than that granted in marriage, may constitute discrimination on sexual orientation," the court said.
While the city of Hamburg had argued that civil unions and marriages were not identical institutions and thus did not need to be treated that way when it came to pensions, the court found that, "the same obligations are incumbent on both registered life partners and married spouses. It follows that the two situations are thus comparable."
The court ruling must now be implemented by German courts and sets a precedent for other countries. The decision is "similarly binding on other national courts or tribunals before which a similar issue is raised."
A step in the right direction
The European court's decision was welcomed as a strengthening of rights granted to civil partnerships, but there are limits to its effect.
"For us this is an important step; it brings clarity to this issue of employment," said Renate Rampf, spokeswoman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany. "Unfortunately, it's not a decision that affects things like income tax law, an area we find very important."
Under current German tax law, married couples fall under a more beneficial tax bracket than single people or those in civil partnerships, an issue that Rampf said did not fall under the EU's jurisdiction.
"The registered life partnerships are treated tax-wise as if the individuals weren't even in a relationship, as if they didn't even know each other," Rampf said. "They just happen to live together in the same apartment and have the same name."
Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Nancy Isenson