07:47, March 08 415 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-08 07:47:06
Lack of pension equality for same-sex couples 'is sexual discrimination'

Denying equal pension rights to a same-sex husband – as opposed to a wife – amounts to sexual discrimination, the supreme court has been told in a case which could affect thousands of couples.

The equal rights claim at the UK’s highest court on Wednesday is being brought by John Walker, a former cavalry officer, who is determined to win pension rights for his husband.

Walker, 65, wants to ensure that should he die first his 52-year-old husband will be adequately provided for. If he was married to a woman she would be entitled to receive about £45,000 a year for life. Under current law, Walker’s husband would receive only a few hundred pounds a year.

Lawyers for the human rights organisation Liberty, which is representing Walker, hope to persuade five justices at the court in London to overturn a previous ruling against him.

Liberty has said ensuring a same-sex husband enjoys the same pension rights as a wife could dramatically change the lives of thousands of couples.

Walker lost at the court of appeal in 2015 when judges ruled his claim could not be enforced because it applied to a period before gay civil partnerships were recognised by law.

After leaving the army, Walker worked for chemicals group Innospec for more than 20 years and retired in 2003. He made the same contributions to the pension scheme as his heterosexual colleagues.

He has been with his husband, a former computer executive, since 1993. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005. They entered into a civil partnership in January 2006, which was later converted into marriage.

The claim, according to Liberty, “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”. It argues that the exemption is discriminatory.

Innospec’s opposition to paying the larger sum is supported by the Department for Work and Pensions. Most private occupational pension schemes treat surviving same-sex spouses as equal to surviving other-sex spouses, but Innospec’s does not, relying on an exemption in the Equality Act.

Walker’s lawyers argue that the exemption should not apply because it constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation, which breaches his human rights.

Commenting before the hearing, Walker said: “The government should be ashamed that, in 2017, I and so many others are being forced to live with the worry that our loved ones won’t be provided for when we’re gone, solely because of our sexuality.

“My husband and I have been together for 24 years. During that time, I also gave more than two decades of my life to Innospec, paying in exactly the same amount into the company pension fund as my heterosexual colleagues.

“How can it be right that my husband will get practically nothing but, if I were to divorce him and marry the very first woman I see, she would be immediately entitled to the full spousal pension? It’s not just unfair – it’s absurd.”

Emma Norton, Liberty’s lawyer representing Walker, said: “We hope the supreme court will drive the law into the 21st century and take a huge step towards equal pension rights for same-sex spouses and civil partners.

“This archaic loophole has no place in the UK in 2017, and it is disgraceful that the Department for Work and Pensions continues to spend taxpayers’ money fighting to preserve it. There can be no price tag on equality.”

The case is being heard alongside claims by a retired part-time judge over his accumulated pension rights.









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