The highest court in Germany has ruled that gay couples must be given equal tax inheritance rights.

The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said that gay couples were currently at a marked disadvantage to heterosexual couples.

Germany legalised ‘registered partnerships’ for gay couples in 2001 which offer most of the rights available to straight couples.

The court said that while straight married couples in the most advantageous tax band had to pay between seven and 30 per cent tax, regardless of the amount inherited, couples in registered partnerships had to pay between 17 and 50 per cent tax.

In 2008, gay couples were given equal rights to personal exemptions for inheriting the assets of their late partner but those in registered partnerships were still classed as strangers in tax.

The court said that the relevant tax laws dating back to 2001 were now invalid and gave the government until the end of this year to address the issue retroactively.

It also said that the government must give “total equality” to gay couples in all tax laws.