Same-sex spouses denied pension equality

Long-serving current and former civil servants who have entered civil partnerships or who plan to get married to their same-sex partner have been refused the right to upgrade their single person’s pension to a spouse and children pension.

Public Service Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said the cost of allowing the change in pension arrangements would lead to “substantial additional cost” to the existing liability of public service pensions. His decision has been described as “intransigent” by fellow Government TD Jerry Buttimer, who is openly gay.

Mr Howlin had been asked by the Cork South Central TD about the possibility of a change. He put it to the minister that the alteration in arrangements — on payment of equitable contributions —would “recognise that civil partnerships and marriage were not previously available to these persons”.

The cohort of civil servants the change would have applied to would have been employed in the civil service as of August 1984. Brendan Howlin said they would have been the staff who exercised their option not to join the revised Spouses’ and Children’s Superannuation Scheme at that point. After August 1984, all new entrant civil servants were compulsorily members of the Spouses and Children’s Superannuation Scheme - meaning their spouses and children were eligible for benefits.

Mr Howlin said in 2013, officials from his department were asked to consider the implications of allowing those current and former civil servants who were serving in 1984 and were now in civil partnerships the option of opting into the revised scheme, if they chose not to in 1984.

“I am advised that, given the background of changing legislation over the years, including the introduction of divorce, and to avoid a charge of discrimination, this option could not of course be limited solely to those entering civil partnerships,” he said. ” It would therefore have to be made available to all relevant serving and former civil servants and public servants in a similar position.

“I am advised that allowing for this option could likely accrue a substantial additional cost to the existing accrued liability of public service pensions.”

Jerry Buttimer said he was disappointed as there was a need to see further progress with regard to parity in the way people are treated. He said the country had travelled a huge journey and it was important to build on last month’s referendum —— which carried a yes vote for gay marriage — as many people had been “locked out” of benefits for many years.

“In 1984 it wasn’t even a remote possibility that a gay or lesbian person would ever be able to get married or enter a civil partnership,” he said. “For gay men, their relationships were criminalised. In effect when given the option to join Spouses’ and Children’s Superannuation Scheme it made no sense. Since then society has fundamentally changed, and we should allow those people the option to revise their decision.”

Mr Buttimer said: “Recently, in the US State of Massachusetts’ the courts held that for a very similar issue its pension laws had to be changed. Here there would only be small number of people involved and it is disappointing that the department is taking such an intransigent position. I would be interested to see the estimated costs involved... It could be a lot more expensive if this was ever to get to the courts here.”



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