In a precedent-setting ruling that could have far-reaching repercussions for civil marriage and divorce in Israel, the Ramat Gan Family Court in late November approved a divorce request from a gay couple and ordered the Interior Ministry to officially register them as divorced, the couple learned on Sunday.
Uzi Even, a professor at Tel Aviv University and a former Meretz MK, and Amit Kama, a lecturer at the Academic College of Emek Yezreel, filed a request at the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court for an official divorce three years after they separated in order to allow Even to remarry, Yedioth Ahronoth reported in September.
Even and Kama wed in Canada in 2004, and upon returning to Israel asked the state to recognize their marriage. While the Interior Ministry initially refused their request, the state was forced by the High Court of Justice to register the couple in 2006 after a lengthy legal battle.
Israel does not have civil marriage, but the state recognizes civil unions performed abroad.
Three years later, the couple decided to part ways, but then the legal difficulties arose. While Canada allows non-citizens to marry in the country, divorces can only be registered for Canadian nationals — so Even and Kam couldn’t get a Canadian divorce.
In Israel, all matters of marriage and divorce are by law entrusted to the religious courts, and Jews must apply through the rabbinical courts. But Even and Kama couldn’t get divorced in the rabbinical court, because it had never recognized their marriage. So they turned to a lawyer, who drafted an agreement to part ways. This was the agreement that was approved by the Ramat Gan Family Court.
Haaretz reported that presiding Judge Yehezkel Eliyue used the High Court of Justice’s instructions to register married same-sex couples as the basis of his ruling. “Once the High Court of Justice ordered the registration of the marriage, the possibility cannot be considered that petitioners who have agreed to end their marriage should remain tied to each other,” the court said.
The ruling could have implications beyond gay rights. Instituting civil marriage and divorce and wresting control of family issues from the Chief Rabbinate has been a goal of secular political parties and activists for some time. The issue particularly resonates with Russian immigrants, a community with many members who are not Jewish according to traditional Jewish law and are therefore forced to marry outside the country.
Lecturer Kama told Haaretz that the verdict granting his divorce “shows the beginning of the undermining of the rabbinate.”
Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.