9th Dec 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.

Polish truck protest at Ukraine border disrupts war supplies

Disruption at the Polish-Ukrainian border by disaffected Polish truckers is escalating, potentially affecting delivery of military aid to Ukraine. A Polish request to reintroduce permits for Ukrainian drivers has been described as "a shot to the head" during war.

Brussels denies having no 'concern' on Spain's amnesty law

The Spanish government remains secretive about its negotiations with pro-independence Catalans, but claims the EU Commission has "zero concerns" about their proposed amnesty law for Catalan separatists. The EU executive denies that.


Why populism appeals to less brainy EU voters

People who voted for Brexit tended to be less clever, research shows, in findings that also shed light on the appeal of EU populists, such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who won elections this week.


Tusk's difficult in-tray on Poland's judicial independence

What is obvious is that PiS put in place a set of interlocking safeguards for itself which, even after their political defeat in Poland, will render it very difficult for the new government to restore the rule of law.


Can Green Deal survive the 2024 European election?

Six months ahead of the EU elections, knocking an 'elitist' climate agenda is looking like a vote-winner to some. Saving the Green Deal and the EU's climate ambitions starts with listening to Europeans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Latest News

  1. How Moldova is trying to control tuberculosis
  2. Many problems to solve in Dubai — honesty about them is good
  3. Sudanese fleeing violence find no haven in Egypt or EU
  4. How should EU reform the humanitarian aid system?
  5. EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example
  6. EU ministers prepare for all-night fiscal debate
  7. Spain's Nadia Calviño backed to be EIB's first female chief
  8. Is there hope for the EU and eurozone?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us