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Family Law

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08 DEC 2009

PENSIONS/MARRIAGE: Munoz Diaz v Spain (Application No 49151/07)

(European Court of Human Rights; 8 December 2009)

The man and woman were Spanish nationals belonging to the Roma community. At a time when, under Spanish law, the only state-recognised form of marriage was a Catholic ceremony, the couple married according to Roma rites.

Thereafter the man paid social security contributions, an official social security document were issued describing the woman as the man's 'wife', and the couple's family of six children was granted 'large family' status by the Spanish authorities. The couple did not take advantage of a subsequent change to Spanish law to enter into a civil marriage. When the man died, the woman applied for a survivor's pension, but was refused on the ground that the Roma marriage had not been registered in the civil register.

The woman complained that the refusal to grant her a survivor's pension was discrimination under European Convention on Human Rights, Art 14 combined with Art 1 of Protocol 1, concerning property, and also argued that the failure of the Spanish authorities to recognise Roma marriage as having any civil effect was discriminatory, under Art 14 taken together with Art 12, the right to marry.

It was disproportionate in this case for the Spanish state, which had granted the family large-family status, had provided the family with health coverage, and had collected the man's social security contributions for over 19 years to have refused to recognise the effects of the Roma marriage when it came to the survivor's pension. However, the fact that Roma marriage had no civil effects did not constitute discrimination prohibited by Art 14.

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