Gay couples win same pension rights as straight couples after historic legal battle

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A former Cavalry officer has won a landmark legal battle to secure equal rights for gay couples over their pensions as enjoyed by heterosexual couples. 

John Walker, 65, battled all the way to the Supreme Court after his former bosses at chemicals group Innospec Ltd refused to confirm that his partner could have access to his pension after his death. 

He argued the stance was discrimination based on his sexual orientation, meaning gay couples had less rights that heterosexual couples despite the 2005 Equalities Act. 

Innospec refused to give in, insisting that because Mr Walker, who worked for the company for 20 years, had paid into his pension scheme prior to his retirement in 2003, and the equalities law did not count as it had not yet taken effect. 

But in a landmark ruling this morning, Supreme Court judges ruled in Mr Walker’s favour and said in future gay couples should have equal pension rights. 

Delivering the judgement, Lord Kerr said: “If Mr Walker was married to a woman, or, indeed, if he married a woman in the future, she would be entitled on his death to the pension provided by the scheme to a surviving spouse.”

He said the fact that Mr Walker earned his pension when discrimination was outlawed was “irrelevant”: “At the time the pension became payable, it would be against the law to discriminate against him on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

Mr Walker, who was backed by human rights organisation Liberty, said prior to the hearing that a ruling in his favour would “dramatically change the lives of thousands of same-sex couples”.

The judges relied on EU law which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, stating that Mr Walker’s partner should have access to the pension pot and they made a declaration that the UK’s Equalities Act should be overruled on this point in the future. 

The Court of Appeal, when previously hearing the case in 2015, had ruled against Mr Walker because the law had not come into effect until after he had retired. 

But the Supreme Court said this should not matter. 

Mr Walker entered into a civil partnership in January 2006 and later converted it into a marriage. 

In a statement before the case, he said: “The Government should be ashamed that, in 2017, I and so many others are being forced to live with the worry that our loved ones won’t be provided for when we’re gone, solely because of our sexuality.

“My husband and I have been together for 24 years. During that time, I also gave more than two decades of my life to Innospec, paying in exactly the same amount into the company pension fund as my heterosexual colleagues.

“How can it be right that my husband will get practically nothing but, if I were to divorce him and marry the very first woman I see, she would be immediately entitled to the full spousal pension? It’s not just unfair – it’s absurd.”

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