LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A British gay man won a legal battle on Wednesday for his husband to receive the same pension benefits when he dies as a heterosexual partner in what has been described as a landmark case for LGBT rights.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that John Walker’s husband was entitled to a spouse pension and that the law was discriminatory, making Britain one of few countries to provide equal access to pension benefits for same-sex couples.
“I am absolutely thrilled at today’s ruling, which is a victory for basic fairness and decency,” Walker said in a statement following a five-year court battle.
“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,” he added.
Britain legalized same-sex marriage in 2014 but a legal loophole allowed an employer to refuse to pay pension benefits to a former employee’s partner if they were in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage and had paid into their pension fund before December 2005.
This meant if Walker was married to a woman, or married a woman in the future, his spouse would receive about 45,000 pounds ($58,000) a year after his death. Walker’s same-sex partner, before the ruling, would have received 1,000 pounds.
Walker, 65, and his husband have been together since 1993.
The Supreme Court ruling stated the law was incompatible with European Union (EU) anti-discrimination laws and overturned it with immediate effect.
The judgment stated that E.U. legislation had transformed the status of gay and lesbian employees in Britain, raising concerns that legal protections would weaken after Britain’s exit from the bloc.
“This ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights protection the EU gives us,” said Emma Norton, lawyer for rights group Liberty who represented Walker.
“We now risk losing that protection. The government must promise that there will be no rollback on LGBT rights after Brexit – and commit to fully protecting them in UK law.”
Gay couples have equal access to survivor benefits in Argentina, France and the United States.
($1 = 0.7766 pounds)