Knesset says no to surrogacy for gay men, but minister vows it will happen

Before opposition proposal is defeated, Justice Minister Nissenkorn pledges to advance government-supported legislation to grant equal right to parenthood by end of the year

Members of the LGBT community and supporters participate in a protest against a Knesset bill amendment denying surrogacy for same-sex couples, in Tel Aviv on November 1, 2018, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: Members of the LGBT community and supporters participate in a protest against a Knesset bill amendment denying surrogacy for same-sex couples, in Tel Aviv on November 1, 2018, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Justice Minister Avi Nisseknorn said Wednesday that he intended to advance a bill granting equal rights to surrogacy in Israel, a move that would enable gay men to use the procedure that is currently only available for heterosexual couples or single women who are unable to have a child.

Nissenkorn’s announcement came hours before the Knesset rejected another bill aiming to expand the procedure to same-sex couples. That proposal was lodged as a private member’s bill by opposition lawmakers, rather than a government-backed initiative, after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, chaired by Nissenkorn, previously rejected the legislation.

“Equality is a pillar of democracy and the right to parenting must be equal regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation,” Nissenkorn tweeted before the Knesset vote.

“To end the discrimination an alteration of the surrogacy law must be advanced in a professional and responsible manner, and not as a private member’s bill. Therefore, it is my intention to bring a government bill during 2020 that will ensure equal right to parenting.”

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

The Knesset later voted 47-29 against the bill that was presented by opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem and his fellow party member MK Idan Roll.

Although both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) have in the past stated their support for same-sex rights to surrogacy, the government coalition they now lead voted against the bill.

Three coalition members broke ranks and voted in favor. MK Etan Ginzburg (Blue and White party), Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud) and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor), all openly gay, supported the bill.

At the vote, Roll appealed to coalition members, among them Gantz, and noted that while they all have children, it would cost him NIS 500,000 ($144,000) for each child he wants to have via surrogacy. Currently, gay men who want to use surrogacy must go through the procedure abroad.

“Benny Gantz, you have four children,” Roll said. “For me that would cost NIS 2 million.”

“The government has been cheating the gay community for four years,” Lapid tweeted. “They won’t pass the surrogacy law in another two months, not in a year, not in two years. An entire community is waiting for the most basic right to be parents.”

“Detached government, we are fed up,” Lapid signed off, using his catchphrase that accuses the coalition of being out of touch with the public.

Attempts in recent years to expand access to surrogacy to the LGBT community have faced vehement opposition from ultra-Orthodox political parties. According to the Walla website, ultra-Orthodox parties have already told Nissenkorn they will not allow gays’ right to surrogacy to be passed into law.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv newspaper conference in Herzliya on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In February, the High Court of Justice struck down the controversial law that blocks single men and gay couples from using surrogacy to have children — giving the Knesset a year to pass a new law.

A summary of the decision publicized by the High Court of Justice said current surrogacy laws “disproportionately violate the right to equality and the right to parenthood of these groups and are illegal.”

The ruling left the current restrictions intact for up to a year, setting a deadline of March 1, 2021, for the Knesset to change the law, and noting that the court would only step in and strike down the surrogacy limitations if the Knesset fails to do so.

Blue and White leader Gantz, who was at the time campaigning to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, welcomed the court decision and said in a statement: “A Blue and White-led government is the only one that would amend the bill and ensure equality.”

In October 2018, the Knesset voted 49 to 41 to reject a bill extending surrogacy laws to same-sex couples, despite support for the bill by Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who ended up voting against the bill himself, said in a statement at the time, “I support surrogacy for the LGBT community, but as of  this moment, we don’t have a majority in the coalition to pass the law. When we have a majority, we’ll pass the legislation.”

A July 2018 law that extended eligibility to unmarried women sparked nationwide protests from the gay community and its supporters for excluding gay men.

Last month Likud joined with Blue and White in a unity government following indecisive March elections, ending a year of political deadlock.

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