EUROPE - The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg today decided denying same-sex partners equal pension rights is direct discrimination and unjustifiable.

Tadao Maruko brought a case against the pension scheme for German Theatres (VddB), after being denied a survivor's pension by his late partner's pension fund on the grounds that such pension are only provided to married partners.

Maruko, who will be 65 this year, however, argued he had lived with his partner "in a committed, loving relationship for over 12 years, from 1992 until [his partner's] death in 2005," his lawyer was quoted as saying in the official court documents.

The lawyer added: "[Maruko's partner] was a member of the VddB pension scheme for 45 years, did the same work as his colleagues who have different-sex spouses for 45 years, and made the same financial contributions as these colleagues to the scheme for 45 years."

The ILGA-Europe, a representative group for European gays and lesbians, said in an announcement on its website today: "The ECJ has ruled that the refusal to grant the survivor's pension to life partners constitutes "direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, when the surviving spouses and surviving life partners are in a comparable situation as regards that pension."

The ECJ made clear the criterion for such a comparable situation is whether the partners "live in a union of mutual support and assistance which is formally constituted for life" - a criterion which is fulfilled by the German legislation.

Patricia Prendiville, executive director of ILGA-Europe, said: "We welcome today's ruling of the European Court of Justice and its strong wording which unequivocally stated that ‘refusal to grant the survivor's pension to life partners constitutes direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation' and therefore it cannot be justified in any circumstance."

VddB officials were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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