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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Topics In the News
German High Court Grants Same-Sex Couples Equal Tax Benefits
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/06/13
Last updated on: 06/06/13
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In a major ruling released on June 6, 2013, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same tax benefits granted to married heterosexual couples. The ruling, which greatly strengthens the country's "Life Partnerships," or civil unions, is seen as a rebuke to Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled 6-2 that Life Partnerships, which have been available to same-sex couples in Germany since 2001, must offer the same benefits as marriage. As reported by Juergen Baetz in the Associated Press, the Court ruled that treating the two forms of partnerships differently for tax purposes violates the country's guarantee of equal rights. Treating Life Partnerships differently from marriage constitutes "unequal treatment because of sexual orientation." Failure to be vigilant in guaranteeing equality "leads to discrimination against a minority," it warned.

Currently, married couples in Germany may file income taxes jointly, which can significantly lower their overall tax burden especially when one partner earns more than the other. However, couples in Life Partnerships are unable to avail themselves of this option.

The Merkel government had argued that married couples should enjoy greater protection and tax benefits because they usually have children. The Court, however, struck down that argument, ruling that policies in favor of families and children cannot be promoted by discriminating against couples in Life Partnerships.

In its ruling, the Court ordered the government to amend the relevant laws retroactively to 2001, when the Life Partnership law became effective. The ruling makes many couples in Life Partnerships eligible for substantial refunds for having overpaid their taxes.

In response to the decision, Family Minister Kristina Schroeder said she appreciated the clarity offered by the ruling and said that the law would be changed. On behalf of the government, she vowed that the necessary legislation to implement the decision would be passed by the fall.

Gay rights activists welcomed the decision. "The principle of equal treatment is valid for all citizens, independently of their sexual orientation," said the German Association of Lesbians and Gays.

Openly gay Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, of the Free Democrats (FDP), said the ruling showed the time had come "for German tax law to be as modern as its society."

In 2012 all parties in the Bundestag expressed support for extending equal tax benefits to same-sex couples except for the Chancellor's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

While there have been initiatives to institute marriage equality in Germany, none has yet received majority support in the Bundestag.

Some time ago, openly gay Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit observed that on glbtq issues, "German society has been ahead of the lawmakers for a long time now."

In the videos below, Wowereit, who was first elected Mayor of Berlin in 2001, addressed the Victory Fund's International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco in 2009.

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