Couple recognition rights advance in Germany

by on August 31, 2010  •  In Family law

Three German court decisions in the last year seem to signal accelerating steps in that country toward legal equity for same-sex couples. Last week, the nation's Constitutional Court announced that same-sex couples must be treated as spouses for purposes of inheritance tax. The court determined that "protection of marriage and family" was not a sufficient justification for the exclusion. According to court spokeswoman Judith Blohm, "The Constitutional Court ruled that there was not a significant enough difference between married spouses and registered life partners to justify discrimination against the latter."

A year ago, the same court ruled that registered partners were entitled to the same survivors' pension benefits as married couples. And earlier this summer, an administrative court in Berlin declared that marriage of a male couple in Canada had to be recognized and classified as a registered life partnership in Germany.

All of the decisions invoke Germany's Life Partnership Act of 2001, which covers health insurance, joint tenancy, hospital visitation, and immigration and naturalization rights for non-German partners. The recent decisions appear to be a judicial repudiation of the vote 10 years ago in the Bundesrat (upper legislative chamber) defeating a more capacious version of registered life partnership that would have included recognition under the tax and labor codes.

The rulings also resemble a series of court decisions in Canada that led up to reform of the Canadian marriage law.

From Deutsche Welle about the latest opinion: 

The Constitutional Court ruled that German lawmakers must implement the court's decision into inheritance tax law by the year's end and must include measures to apply the new rules retroactively to cases of widowed life partners since 2001. It is expected that the government will change income tax laws as well.

Until 2008, registered partners could inherit only 5,200 euros ($6,700) from their loved one tax-free – as opposed to 307,000 euros for widowed spouses. Although that rule has been off the books for two years, under current law inheritance is still taxed at a significantly higher rate for the survivors of same-sex partners.

In fact, surviving registered partners are taxed as if they were inheriting from a distant cousin, with rates ranging between 17 and 50 percent, as opposed to 7 and 30 percent for survivors of opposite-sex partners.


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