Monday, 14 April 2008

Independent: European Court of Justice ruling welcomed by Maltese gay community

by FRANCESCA VELLA, 9th April 2008

The Maltese gay community welcomed a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last week, which, in the words of lawyer Helmut Graupner, “would indirectly help gay couples in countries where there is no equivalent to marriage”.

Reacting to the judgement, which is essentially about pension rights for same-sex registered couples, the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) said it welcomed the ruling and its strong wording.

Details about this landmark case were first carried in last Friday’s edition of The Malta Independent. The case was triggered by German national Tadao Maruko in 2005, after his partner died and he was refused a widower’s pension.

The German pension fund refused to grant Mr Maruko a widower’s pension, claiming that only people who have been married are entitled to such a pension.

However, the ECJ ruled that this was a violation of EU law, and it established a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

MGRM said the ruling unequivocally states: “...the refusal to grant the survivor’s pension to life partners constitutes direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation...” and therefore cannot be justified in any circumstance.

This is a significant achievement that will be applicable in EU countries that provide formal registration of same-sex unions and require mutual maintenance, said MGRM, adding, this decision does not have, however, immediate legal consequences for same-sex partners in Malta, which does not yet recognise same-sex unions.

As stated by the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe), “This creates a discriminatory two-tier level of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) EU nationals, who are divided into two categories as their access to survivor pension rights depends on their country of residence”.

MGRM said it looks forward to seeing how the EU is going to eliminate this discriminatory divide based on nationality and/or place of residence of LGBT people.

Patrick Attard, who contested the general elections on the AD ticket, told The Malta Independent that the ECJ ruling is a step in the right direction.

“Since the death of one of the partners is just the starting point, it is important not to forget the importance of the survivor’s bereavement leave.

“Whenever bereavement leave is granted, the surviving partner is more likely to recover quicker and be productive again.”

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