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German court rules that same-gender partnerships deserve tax equality

BERLIN – Germany’s high court ruled Thursday that gay and lesbian couples in legal partnerships have the same rights as married opposite-gender couples in regards to tax benefits, and ordered tax laws to be changed.

The German verdict on tax benefits also back-dates the law to Aug. 1, 2001 when Germany enacted a law granting legal partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. The ruling follows a February decision that overturned a ban on same-gender couples from jointly adopting a child that had already been adopted by one of them.

Germany has not followed the European trend of granting marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Immediately after the ruling, speculation began that gay rights could become an issue in the national election, scheduled for September. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), are not known for being gay-friendly and Merkel’s fragile coalition is divided on the issue.

Other political parties, including the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), hailed today’s ruling. According to Reuters:

FDP Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, himself in a gay relationship, said the ruling showed the time had come "for German tax law to be as modern as its society."

CDU Family Minister Kristina Schroeder welcomed the ruling and said the law would be changed. But ahead of the September election, in which Merkel is seeking a third term, it could fuel dissent among conservatives who are deeply divided on the issue.

According to the Financial Times:

The court simply declared that the unequal treatment of civil partnerships on the question of “tax splitting” was unconstitutional, and called for a legal amendment to be back-dated to August 1 2001. The ruling was immediately welcomed by Ms Merkel’s coalition partners in the liberal Free Democratic party, and by the opposition Social Democrats and the Green party.

“Merkel’s coalition is being driven by the constitutional court,” said Thomas Oppermann, chief whip of the SPD. “She simply won’t admit that it is high time there was totally equal treatment for life partners and married couples.”

America’s version of the law, the Defense of Marriage Act that discriminates against gay and lesbian couples in more than 1,200 instances, could be scrapped by the U.S. Supreme Court when the justices rule on the case this month. A lower court had ruled DOMA was unconstitutional.