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News – Discrimination against sisters

June 2008

Discrimination against sisters

 

Two elderly sisters have lost their battle to enjoy the same tax benefits as same-sex couples who register for civil partnerships. Joyce Burden, 90, and her sister Sybil, 82, have lived together in the same house for years, caring for older family members and now for one another.

     Concerned that when one of them dies the other will have to sell the house to cover inheritance duties, the sisters have campaigned for decades to have their relationship treated like a marriage for the purposes of tax law. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allows same-sex couples to register as civil partners, exempting them from inheritance tax. However, the Act prevents partnerships from being registered between close relatives.

     Before the law was passed it was argued by The Christian Institute and others that it ought to be extended to allow long-term, cohabiting family members to register as civil partners, in the same way as same-sex couples. This would have made civil partnerships fairer and less like ‘gay marriage’.

     The Burdens decided to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. They claimed that the Government was unfairly withholding from them tax rights now available to same-sex civil partners. But the Grand Chamber of the European Court ruled that the sisters could not be compared with a married or Civil Partnership Act couple, and so no discrimination had taken place.

     Joyce Burden said: ‘If we were lesbians we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters and it seems we have no rights at all’.

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