Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Dr Carla Skinner (MB 104)

Summary

1. This memorandum is addressed specifically to Schedule 4-Part 6 - Occupational pension schemes and survivor benefits. On other aspects of the Bill I fully endorse the comments made in the memoranda submitted by GIRES (MB29) and Mrs Janet and Mrs Sarah Woods (MB69).

Introduction

2. My wife and I married as a heterosexual couple 44 years ago. In the past year I have transitioned to female with her full support. We intend to continue as a married couple, which under present legislation means that I am denied the opportunity to obtain full legal recognition of my female status. The Bill is intended by the Government to enable a person to change their legal gender without ending their marriage. But I now discover that provisions in respect of occupational pensions in Schedule 4 mean that, should my wife survive me, the provider of my public service pension would be obliged to substantially reduce her survivor’s pension compared to that to which she would be entitled if we were to stay, legally, man and wife. The existence of survivor’s pensions is a recognition of joint rights accrued through the lifetime of a partnership and it seems perverse that a welcome piece of legislation designed to extend the benefits of marriage should not protect those rights when a heterosexual marriage becomes a same sex marriage.

Schedule 4-Part 6 - Regression of survivor’s rights in occupational pension schemes on gender recognition

3. The Bill provides an exception to avoid the loss of a wife’s state pension upon a spouse’s gender recognition, but fails to avoid loss of wife’s survivor rights in occupational pension schemes. I had assumed that this was perhaps an oversight because of the complexity of pension scheme provisions but it emerged from questioning of the Secretary of State in Committee (Q353, 12 February) that it is the Government’s intention to remove accrued rights and Mrs Miller gave two arguments to justify it.

4. These were to avoid administrative/regulatory burdens and to avoid intrusive questions in evaluating survivor benefits. I question both of these. Pension scheme managers already have all the necessary information and have developed systems to manage documentation of trans pensions. They are adept at managing the already complex and various provisions of pension schemes and, for the small number of people involved, it is not credible to argue that a significant burden would be created. The second argument fails for the same reason - the pensions schemes already have most, if not all, of the relevant information. On top of that spouses who have shared the trauma of gender dysphoria with their trans partners will be well rehearsed on the issues and well used to the intrusions of bureaucracy.

5. In my case the pension rights accrued over nearly half a lifetime of work are at risk of being disregarded for administrative convenience and delicacy of questioning!

6. I wish to emphasise, because in the answers Mrs Miller gave the Committee she seemed to be under a misapprehension, that public sector pension providers are obliged to follow statute and are allowed no discretion in computing survivor benefits. So the only way to meet the problem is to make sure that the matter is properly addressed in statute.

7. The Bill as a whole enjoys widespread support because it extends and encourages marriage. For trans people it would allow us to embrace both marriage and full legal rights in our correct gender. Unless the bill is amended, for a small minority of trans people such as myself, these benefits will only come at an unacceptable price, that of imposing a financial loss on my wife should she outlive me. That would be an intolerable legacy to leave to someone who has shared and supported my life and my transition.

8. The absence of provisions to protect survivor’s pensions in Schedule 4 is unreasonable, unjust and no credible argument has been made for excluding them.

March 2013

Prepared 8th March 2013