In a landmark discrimination case at the Supreme Court, John Walker, a gay man, formerly a cavalry officer, won a long legal battle aimed at providing his husband with equal pension rights.
In a ruling that will immediately be extended to thousands of same-sex couples across the country (achieved by unanimous judgement) it is granted that, should the former officer die before his husband, he would be entitled to a lifelong income of £45,000 a year provided by Mr. Walker’s pension fund. Before the ruling by the supreme court, under current law, same-sex spouses would have been entitled to a mere £1,000 a year. This will enable Mr Walker’s husband to benefit from same pension rights as a widow.
Mr. Walker has fought a long legal battle to achieve parity with heterosexual married couples and his success will also benefit widowers who were previously in the same position as same-sex couples in that only women could benefit from their husband’s pension pot, husbands could not access their wives’ pensions should their wife die before them.
Mr. Walker and his partner have been together for 13 years and took the first opportunity to cement their relationship with a civil partnership in 2006 (the Civil Partnership Act was only to be enforced in late 2005). They embarked on marriage at a later stage.
Lord Kerr, the judge delivering the judgement, maintained that during his professional life, Mr Walker has enjoyed the same income as would have been granted to a heterosexual man. There was therefore no ground for the company to consider his lawful husband was not entitled to a survivor’s pension. This would have amounted to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, despite of the fact that the pension rights were earned before the enforcement of the Civil Partnership Act.
Finally, should the two remain married until Mr Walker’s demise, his husband would be entitled to a spouse’s pension calculated on the basis of the entire years of services of Mr Walker.
An EU framework directive from 2000 guaranteeing gender equality under employement law provided the guidelines for the Supreme Court ruling. The employment appeal court had previously ruled that according to the 2010 Equality act companies were entitled to restrict benefits generated by periods of service before 2005.
Mr Walker later indicated his satisfaction for the ruling, which he deems to be a victory for basic fairness and decency. He also hopes Theresa May will formally commit to keep this statute even after Brexit.
Emma Norton, Mr Walker’s lawyer, has expressed fears that since the ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights of protection granted by the EU, the protection may indeed be lost very soon due to Brexit. Hence the appeal to Theresa May to keep the newly-acquired statute into place in post-Brexit Britain.
The government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DwP) has expressed concern regarding what is likely to be a significant impact on pension funds, considering that this ruling will also allow husbands in heterosexual marriages to access the pension funds of their wives. Prior to the ruling only women received the benefit of their spouse’s pension fund. The DwP is currently evaluating the cost of this ruling to pension schemes and are committed to providing a response very soon.
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