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EU’s highest court will look at equal benefits of marriage for same-sex couples reports that the European Court of Justice will soon decide the question of whether same-sex couples should receive equal rights to spousal benefits in all 27 member-states of the EU! Potentially, this decision may have an even broader effect.

The case is brought by Jurgen Römer, a retired employee of the City of Hamburg. He's been living with his partner since 1969. They registered initially in 1999 under the “partnership” scheme of the City of Hamburg (which in Germany is like a State in US within the federal structure). Then they also entered into a “partnership” under the federal government's scheme in 2001, immediately after that option became available.

In Germany, same-sex couples can only enter into “life partnership”, not into “marriage.” Opposite-sex couples can only enter into “marriage.” But these two types of institutions are not equal in the eyes of the state. Because Römer is in a life partnership, he receives a smaller pension. Had he been married to a woman, that would not be the case.

More info on the case and its potential ramifications in EU and Europe below the fold.

So, he is suing to receive equal benefits. The attorneys are basing the claim on the EU Antidiscrimination Directive that calls for equal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation. The attorneys argue that the Directive guarantees equality in treatment. Within the specific situation of the European Union and its treaties, that means that the word “marriage” or “life partnership” or not allowing any specific registration scheme is within the power of the member state. However, irrespective of the position on the structure for it, each member state must, in the Advocate General's view, provide equal benefits to both opposite- and same-sex couples.

This position is also supported by the Advocate General Niiko Jääskinen. Advocate General Jääskinen thinks that all 27 member-states should provide same-sex couples with equal rights. They, however, can decide for themselves whether to call it “marriage,” “partnerships,” “unions,” or whatever else they want. This is important, because the position (job) of the Advocate General is to tell the Court what he thinks is in the interest of the European Union, member states, and their citizens. He is not representing any one of these specifically, but speaks from his “enlightened opinion.” Advocates General are usually appointed from the best legal minds of Europe, and their opinions carry great weight with the Justices of the Court.

While the site is commenting on how significant this case may be in all 27 member states, this decision may have potentially a much broader effect, because the 27 member states comprising the European Union are also subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That Court operates under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Countries like Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova are within its jurisdiction and may be influenced by the Strasbourg Court's decisions. In the latest case on same-sex marriage in the Strasbourg Court, while the majority denied same-sex couples had a right to marriage, they did consider the legislation and position of the European Union on the issue. Undoubtedly, any decision of the highest Court of the European Union in Luxembourg will now influence the decisions of the Court in Strasbourg.

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