21st Sep 2023

Same-sex couples score victory on pension rights

The EU's top court has boosted the rights of same-sex couples, after ruling that a person is entitled to their dead partner's pension in all EU states that treat homosexual partnerships similarly to marriages.

The ruling by the European Court of Justice, announced on Tuesday (1 April), comes in response to a case triggered by a German citizen, Tadao Maruko, in 2005.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Some have suggested that the ruling could eventually effect the entire 27-nation EU (Photo: EUobserver)

After Mr Maruko's partner died, a German pension fund refused to pay him any survivor's benefits, claiming that only married couples have a right to a widower's pension.

But the Luxembourg-based court found that this violated EU law, outlining a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

In practice, a person should after the death of their life partner receive a survivor's benefit equivalent to that granted to a surviving spouse, but only if national law treats same-sex partnerships in a comparable way to marriages as far as the survivor's benefit is concerned.

The court therefore underlined that it is up to national courts to determine whether a surviving life partner is in a situation comparable to that of a spouse who is entitled to the survivor's benefit provided for under the occupational pension scheme.

"It's a very important step," Mr Maruko's lawyer, Helmut Graupner, told the BBC on Tuesday, adding: "It's the first time the ECJ has ruled in favour of same-sex couples."

The European Commission also welcomed the judgement, with a spokesperson saying: "It strengthens the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and further specifies the right of registered homosexual partners in the area of employment and occupation."

At the same time, the commission stressed that family law was exclusively in the hands of member states and they were free to decide whether homosexual partnerships should enjoy the same treatment as marriages.

"The right to a survivor's pension exists only if the two regimes [marriage and same-sex partnership] are analogous," the commission spokesman clarified.

However, Mr Graupner has suggested that the ruling could eventually effect the entire 27-nation EU, including countries that do not recognize same-sex partnerships at all.

"The next case may be one of indirect discrimination, from a country that excludes same-sex partners from the rights and obligations of marriage," he told the BBC, adding: "The way out for such a country would mean they would have to provide the same benefits as other countries."

That is also why some conservative politicians in Europe have criticised the fact that the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the citizens' rights document, is to become legally binding under the EU's new treaty.

They claim it could serve as a back door to allowing gay marriages as well as abortions and euthanasia, depending on how the European Court of Justice interprets its articles.

Only Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands recognise full same-sex marriages, while Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and the UK allow for legal partnerships. France and Luxembourg have established civil contracts.


Von der Leyen overlooks cost-of-living crisis and job quality

Von der Leyen's speech focused on labour and skills shortages, inflation and improving the business environment. Some trade unions, political groups, and organisations felt that there were missed opportunities to outline a roadmap for a social Europe.


Spain's EU-language bid and UN summit This WEEK

While the heads of EU institutions are in New York for the UN high level meeting, Spain's EU presidency will try to convince ministers to make Catalan, Basque, and Galician official EU languages.

Latest News

  1. Europe must Trump-proof its Ukraine arms supplies
  2. Antifascism and fascism are opposites, whatever elites say
  3. MEPs back Germany's Buch to lead ECB supervisory arm
  4. Russia to blame for Azerbaijan attack, EU says
  5. Fresh dispute may delay EU-wide migration reforms
  6. MEPs call for extra €10bn to boost EU's long-term budget
  7. No changes to Turkey deal on Nato, Sweden says
  8. Socialist MEP defends own side jobs after voting to ban others

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us