Landmark Ruling: Equal Pension Rights for Same Sex Partners

In what’s been called a landmark ruling, the UK’s highest court has awarded a gay man’s partner the same pension rights as a wife would receive. This entitles John Walker’s husband to a full spousal pension, as long as they stay married for the duration of his life.

Mr. Walker, who worked for Innospec, a specialist chemicals group between 1980 and 2003, said that he made the same pension payments as his heterosexual colleagues during this period.

It was 3 years after he left the company, in 2006, that he entered a civil partnership with his partner, which was later converted into a marriage. When it came to questions of claiming his pension, Innospec said it would refuse to pay the full spousal pension because Mr. Walker began work at the company before civil partnerships became legal in the UK. Even though he had been with his partner since 1993.

As a consequence of this ruling, Mr. Walker’s husband is now entitled to a pension of around £45,000 a year, a huge increase on the £1,000 that he would have previously received.

Speaking on the high court’s unanimous ruling, Mr. Walker, who is an ex-cavalry officer, said, “I am absolutely thrilled at today’s ruling, which is a victory for basic fairness and decency. Finally this absurd injustice has been consigned to the history books – and my husband and I can now get on with enjoying the rest of our lives together.

“But it is to our Government’s great shame that it has taken so many years, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and the UK’s highest court to drag them into the 21st century. In the years since we started this legal challenge, how many people have spent their final days uncertain about whether their loved one would be looked after? How many people have been left unprovided for, having already suffered the loss of their partner?

“What I would like from Theresa May and her ministers today is a formal commitment that this change will stay on the statute books after Brexit.”

The ruling from the Supreme Court justices overturned a 2015 defeat in the Court of Appeal, when judges ruled that his claim failed because it applied to a period before civil partnerships were legal.

Speaking on the case before the ruling, Human rights organisation Liberty said that a successful outcome could “dramatically change the lives of thousands of same-sex couples”.

Liberty further elaborated, “[the case] challenges an exemption in the Equality Act that lets employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into a pension fund before December 2005, when civil partnerships became legal.”

The presiding judge, Lord Kerr, upon delivering the ruling added, “The salary paid to Mr Walker throughout his working life was precisely the same as that which would have been paid to a heterosexual man. There was no reason for the company to anticipate that it would not become liable to pay a survivor’s pension to his lawful spouse. Mr Walker’s husband is entitled to a spouse’s pension calculated on all the years of his service with Innospec [the chemicals company where he worked], provided that at the date of Mr Walker’s death, they remain married.”

This is remarkable, inspiring news, that goes to show that we are finally going in the right direction when it comes to equal rights for the LGBT community. However, to echo what Mr. Walker himself said, Brexit could change everything once again. We can only hope that the government will let this ruling stand, and not drag us backwards.

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