It would be easy to assume that the introduction of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage would give same-sex couples identical rights to heterosexual couples when it comes to things like pension rights. Until a few days ago though, that was not the case.
Under most occupational pension schemes, when the person entitled to the pension dies, their husband or wife is entitled to 50% of the value of the pension for their rest of their life. The date of their marriage is not taken into account; it does not matter how long they were married for or whether they got married many years or just a few days before the person died. However, the Equality Act 2010 allowed employers to exclude same-sex spouses or civil partners from any pension benefits accrued before 5 December 2005 (the date it first became possible to enter a Civil Partnership).
John Walker, 66, worked for a company called Innospec from 1980 to 2003. During that time, he paid into an occupational pension scheme. He met his partner in 1993. They entered into a civil partnership in January 2006 and later converted it into a marriage.
Innospec told Mr Walker that, when he dies, his husband would not receive the £45,000/year that he would have been given if he was a wife. Instead, because he was in a same-sex marriage, he would only get around £1,000/year.
Mr Walker argued that he had paid the same amount as his heterosexual colleagues into his pension, and that his employer would have had to fund the pension scheme on the basis that he might marry a woman. It would not have mattered if he had married that woman before he started working for the company, whilst he was working for them, or even long after he left. Either way, they still would have had to pay out the same amount to his wife. Even today, if he divorced his husband and married a wife, they would have had to pay £45,000/year to his new wife. So, he said, why should it matter that the woman they had to assume he could have married was actually a man?
The Supreme Court agreed. They ruled that those provisions in the Equality Act 2010 were discriminatory and unlawful. As they were not compatible with EU Law, they should be disapplied.
Needless to say, John Walker and his husband are very happy with this ruling. But this also marks another important step towards equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
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