Germany’s top court has ruled that registered homosexual partnerships should have the same inheritance tax rights as married couples.
Germany is gradually working toward giving gay couples equal rights in many areas. On Tuesday, it took a further step, when its top court ruled that same-sex couples in civil partnerships are entitled to the same inheritance tax rights as married couples.
The Constitutional Court, based in the western German city of Karlsruhe, found that inheritance tax law between 2001 and 2008 had disadvantaged registered homosexual partnerships. Germany introduced a form of civil partnership for same-sex couples in 2001, yet when a partner passed away, the surviving partner had to pay much higher tax on anything they might inherit.
New legislation in December 2008 helped remedy this situation and the government has prepared draft legislation that would bring about full equality on inheritance taxes. The court ruled on Tuesday that the German parliament had until Dec. 31 to produce legislation that rectified the disadvantage to gay and lesbian partners for the years 2001 to 2008.
The judges were responding to appeals lodged by a man and woman whose respective partners had died. In one case, the beneficiary had inherited €140,000 ($185,000) from his partner and had to pay €30,000 in taxes. In another, a woman had to pay €12,000 in taxes on an inheritance of €58,000 from her deceased partner.
Bias in Inheritance
The court ruled that while heterosexual marriage enjoys a unique status under the Basic Law, as Germany’s constitution is known, it was unconstitutional for couples who had made a long-term commitment — including a pledge to pay maintenance if they separated — to face bias in inheritance.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger, a member of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), welcomed the decision. She said that the center-right governing coalition — made up of the FDP and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives — was working on ironing out remaining disadvantages in tax policy. In Germany, married couples can combine their income when filing their tax returns, which can significantly lower their tax bills.
Germany’s lesbian and gay association, the LSVD, welcomed the ruling, but also argued that there was still much to be done. “Lawmakers must now act as quickly as possible to ensure there is complete equality on income tax,” said spokesman Manfred Bruns in a statement.
On Wednesday the German press is largely in favor of the ruling and many argue that the next step is to ensure equality for same-sex couples in income taxation.
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
“The ruling shows that not only are political reforms doing some good, but also that the alignment of the law with changing living arrangements is more than just a side-effect of modernization. Rather, reforms like this are a way of implementing the equality principle in our constitution, which forbids treating people worse because of their sexual orientation.”
“It is good when people are there for each other. When homosexuals do this in committed partnerships, they should be treated as married partners and have the same right to benefit from the assets of the deceased in cases of death.”
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
“When people are there for one another and take care of one another, when they take on responsibilities for each other, then they should have the same rights as others — both in terms of ideals and economics. And in a society like ours, which is so concerned with the protection of property, this should also include inheritance.”
“The ruling is just a further step towards the equal treatment of gay men and women. There is still a lot to do. … There is the issue of equal rights when it comes to income tax. There is no reason why lesbians and gay men should not be taxed together with their partners just like heterosexual married couples, instead of being treated as single people.”
“In the conservative ideology, the image of the family is often connected with children. However, there are plenty of heterosexual couples with no children, who are still treated as a family. Should childless couples be taxed as single people?”
“Regardless of whether one considers the institution of marriage to be modern or outmoded, as long as there are marriages, then there should be no difference made between homosexuals and heterosexuals.”
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“The convictions of the majority are decisive in a democracy — except when the Constitutional Court speaks. It has now decided that homosexual partnerships should have the same inheritance rights as marriages. It was particularly easy for the court to brush aside a constitutional principle that for decades had privileged marriage.”
“Those who promote tolerance were not waiting for the ruling from Karlsruhe. The Justice Ministry has long been working on equality legislation. And the draft legislation probably also includes equality for gay couples when it comes to adoption rights. It looks like marriage will gradually really need that ‘particular protection of the state.'”
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“If gay marriages and classic marriages are treated equally when it comes to inheritance rights, then why not when it comes to other taxation?”
“Within the government, only the FDP is asking this logical question. Large parts of the CDU and the entire CSU, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, would rather not hear it at all.”
“Little wonder, as they would have to admit that there are no sensible reasons for discriminating against gay partnerships — for example when married couples combine their income tax returns. While heterosexual couples can share the income between two people and so pay less tax, gay couples are denied this possibility.”
“The old argument that gay couples cannot have children is hardly applicable, because many classic marriages these days remain childless.”
“If the CDU/CSU politicians really want to use the tax system to promote people having children then they shouldn’t link any incentives with marriage. In reality, there are so many colorful constellations these days that families shouldn’t be encouraged according to marriage certificates or sexual orientation, but according to whether they are adults who will care for children in a stable and reliable way.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“There remain differences between marriage and civil partnerships, particularly when it comes to taxation and adoption rights. They cannot be allowed to remain. The lawmakers have to differentiate between couples with and without children. Not, however, whether the couple is made up of a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man.”
“The state provides a framework to people who wish to make a commitment to one another. It cannot make these people love each other, or remain faithful to one another, or have children, or give their marriage a deeper, religious meaning. The discomfort that some people feel, with regards to the ruling by the court in Karlsruhe, comes from the fact that they realize how uncertain all of these relationships have become — and how little the law can do to change this.”
Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,712473,00.html