LGBT equality – battles won but the war is far from over
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on July 25, 2017.
Recently a ruling was passed unanimously in the UK’s Supreme Court setting a precedent which will benefit thousands of LGBT couples. John Walker, who is 66, had to fight hard, taking his case from Employment Tribunal through the Court of Appeal and all the way to the highest court in the land, finally emerging victorious to win the same pension rights for his husband as a wife would receive. This landmark win will affect the entitlement of thousands of civil partners and spouses in same-sex marriages and is being heralded as a victory which drags LGBT rights into the 21st century.
Walker worked for chemical company Innospec from 1980 to 2003, contributing to their pension scheme just like his heterosexual colleagues. In 2006 he entered into a civil partnership with the man who has since become his husband but Innospec argued that his hsuband was not entitled to a spouse’s pension because civil partnerships only became legal in 2005, after Walker had left the company. Their argument was right in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 but in this latest ruling the Supreme Court found the act to be ‘incompatible with EU law’ and judged that it must be disapplied.
As a result, going forward, those in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages, including Walker’s husband, will enjoy the same pension rights and entitlements as those in a heterosexual marriage. With most occupational pension schemes that means a spouse will receive 50% of the value of a pension for life after the death of their same-sex husband or wife.
As a champion of LGBT rights I welcome this ruling as a monumental stride in the right direction - as Walker himself said an ‘absurd injustice has been consigned to the history books’ - although of course this only affects couples in the UK.
Hong Kong’s LGBT community do not benefit from the same level of equality as their counterparts in the UK however small, but no less significant, steps are being taken in the right direction. Back in April a gay civil servant in Hong Kong – Leung Chun-kwong - won a similarly landmark case giving his Kiwi husband (from an overseas marriage) the same benefits as spouses of his heterosexual colleagues. The Civil Service Bureau claimed that it was denying benefits to same-sex spouses to protect ‘the integrity of the institution of marriage’ but the Court of First Instance did not agree and ruled in favour of Leung.
Leung’s legal representative, Mark Daly, hailed the decision as ‘rare judicial recognition’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the city. Again, this will set a precedent for other gay civil servants who have married overseas, which is especially significant as the government is Hong Kong’s biggest employer. We can only hope that other companies in Hong Kong will also follow the decision.
Unfortunately, the outcome of a similar challenge Leung made to the Inland Revenue was less positive. The same judge ruled that that a same-sex marriage was not valid under the laws that govern taxation in Hong Kong because the Inland Revenue Ordinance clearly states that a marriage is between a man and a woman.
It is clear that while battles have been won in the UK and Hong Kong, the war for true equality for all, regardless of their sexual orientation, is far from over. If you are in a similar situation and would like to discuss your finances, please do get in touch with my at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am a financial planner well-versed in the unique needs of the LGBT community and would love to sit down and have a chat about how I can help you.