A recent decision by the European Court of Justice has delivered some good news for same sex couples and equality campaigners in Europe. The EU judges have confirmed that where a country does not provide for same sex marriage but does provide for registration for partnerships, those partners must receive the same benefits and treatment as married couples.
In the case in question a German man lived with his partner for many years and entered into a civil partnership with him. When it came to calculating his retirement pension, the man was not placed in the more favourable tax category ; the city of Hamburg claimed that this was only applicable to married pensioners. The Court found that this difference of treatment between married partners and registered partners amounted to direct discrimination.
The judgment is a very positive step for the recognition of the rights of homosexual couples in the EU. As only 5 Member States currently allow same-sex marriage, it is essential that the rights provided by same-sex partnerships are fully upheld. The latest Eurobarometer survey on the topic of same-sex marriage in 2006 showed that on average 44% of citizens supported it. The difference between Member States was vast however, with the Netherlands 82% in favour and Greece 84% opposed. An EU-wide law on marriage allowing homosexual couples to enjoy complete equality with their heterosexual counterparts looks a long way off, but this judgment is a very acceptable compromise.