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Gay couples in Germany who have formally registered their partnerships are entitled to the same inheritance rights as married couples, the country's top court said Tuesday.
Germany introduced "registered partnerships" for same-sex couples in 2001 but stopped short of granting them the full rights and privileges afforded to married couples.
The ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court found that inheritance tax law as it stood between 2001 and 2008, when the legislation was reformed, put gay registered partners at a marked disadvantage.
"While married couples were put in the most advantageous tax group I and regardless of the amount inherited had to pay between seven and 30 percent tax, life partners, as 'other beneficiaries' in tax group III, had to pay between 17 and 50 percent tax," the court said in a statement.
Married couples also had a far higher tax exempt sum than gay partners.
New legislation in December 2008 helped close the gap and the government put forward a draft bill in June offering full equality with married couples in inheritance taxes, the court noted.
The judges said that although heterosexual marriage still enjoys a unique status under the German Basic Law, it was unconstitutional for couples who had made a long-term commitment -- and a pledge to pay maintenance if they separated -- to face bias in inheritance.
It set a deadline of December 31 for the parliament to produce new legislation to rectify the "unconstitutional" disadvantage for gay partners in the years 2001 to 2008.
The judges ruled on the complaint of a beneficiary who had inherited the equivalent of 140,000 euros (180,500 dollars) from his registered partner in 2001 and had to pay 30,000 euros in taxes on it.
Another plaintiff had inherited 58,500 euros from her partner and was taxed 12,000 euros.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger welcomed the decision, saying that Germany's centre-right coalition was working toward ironing out remaining disadvantages in tax policy for same-sex registered couples.
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