Education minister under fire for dissing gay marriage

Education minister under fire for dissing gay marriage

Shai Piron says the state has a duty to tell same-sex couples 'this is not a family'; later apologizes but doesn't retract

Former education minister Shai Piron speaks during a meeting of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, August 26, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former education minister Shai Piron speaks during a meeting of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, August 26, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) faced more backlash Saturday over comments he made earlier in the week opposing gay marriage, with some critics calling for his resignation.

“When the education minister says he thinks it is ‘the duty of the state to to tell same-sex couples that their family is not a family,’ no apology will help. The damage is done. The message has been delivered,” Meretz chair MK Zahava Gal-On wrote on her Facebook page, quoting Piron’s words from an interview with the Israel National News website published Thursday.

Responding to a question on the secular orientation of his Yesh Atid Party, Piron, who is an Orthodox rabbi, said he believed there should be a separation between matters of religion and state. Citing the issue of marriage, he said civil marriages should be called something other than marriage, and that while the state must make sure all couples have the same economic and social rights, it also has a right and a duty to tell same-sex couples, “this is not a family.”

Piron issued an apology the same day the interview was published, asserting that he believes everybody has a right to be in a relationship with whoever they want, though he stopped short of retracting his remarks.

“You can disagree with my comments,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “but it reflects the reality of the situation in Israel and the difficulties of the religious community with changes in the family structure. Every day I try to build a bridge between different groups and communities, the first step of the bridge is to accept and understand. I apologize if my words were misunderstood and hurt [anybody].”

In a statement, the Israel Gay Youth Organization called on Piron to “internalize the fact that among the students he is responsible for are children from different families and backgrounds,” adding that he must back up his apology with actions that “prove his intentions in the education system and society in general.”

On the other side of the dispute, openly gay TV host Asi Azzar took to Facebook to voice his continued support for Piron despite his comments, because his actions in the Knesset have been helpful to the gay community.

“Shay Piron is, at the moment, the only rabbi that is outwardly and openly conducting a healthy dialogue with the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] community,” Azzar wrote. “And true, sometimes it is an exasperating and infuriating dialogue, but there is nothing to be done about that. Not everything is black and white. And everything is a process.

“I choose to respect and appreciate and continue to have a dialogue, because until now, in the moment of truth, when the time came to vote in the Knesset and change something for me and the community I come from, Shai Piron did the right thing.”

Earlier this month, Yesh Atid successfully advanced through a cabinet vote a bill proposed by Health Minister Yael German, also of Yesh Atid, granting same-sex couples the right to use surrogates in Israel. The bill advanced despite heavy opposition from the Jewish Home party.

Before he joined Yesh Atid, Piron, a head of a religious-Zionist yeshiva, or religious seminary, had said that homosexuality could be fixed. Upon entering public service, however, Piron and his party chairman Yair Lapid said that he had changed his views. His entrance into public service received the backing of several groups that support homosexuals in the religious community.

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