Opposition head Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) and other left-wing Knesset members on Wednesday hailed the decision of the US Supreme Court to grant same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, expressing hope that Israel would also move toward recognizing gay marriage.
“The LGBTQ community in Israel, along with Israeli society,” Yachimovich said, “are all eligible to choose between marriage according to Jewish law and civil marriage, including marriage to people of the same gender.”
The American decision does not mean that gay marriage will be permitted throughout the United States; Most states still ban it. But it builds on the momentum of the gay rights movement in America, where there has been a broad shift in public attitudes, a dozen states adopting gay marriage and a US president, Barack Obama, who has advocated for gay rights.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Israel’s only openly gay parliamentarian, also praised the decision on his Facebook page, saying that “the world is changing before our eyes… I call on you, ministers in the Israeli government: Take the right step. Marriage, creating a family — these are basic rights of every human being.”
In January, Horowitz conducted two same-sex wedding ceremonies and one heterosexual civil marriage in front of the rabbinical court in Tel Aviv in protest over Israel’s policy on the matter.
Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, an NGO pushing for civil marriage in Israel, attacked the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s control of marriage in a reaction to the US Supreme Court ruling.
“After the judges clarified that a democratic society cannot deny its citizens the right to marry, we must ask whether the Israeli legislature will continue to live in the Middle Ages, captive to extremist religious fossils,” he said, according to a press release from Hiddush.
Same-sex marriages, like civil marriages, cannot be performed in Israel. However, if a couple are married abroad, they can register at the Administration of Population and Immigration, and gain access to almost all marriage benefits through a cohabitation agreement.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) has been championing a bill that seeks to recognize civil union for same-sex partners, as well as civil marriage for those who do not meet religious standards for marriage, currently the only criteria recognized by the State of Israel.
Granting same-sex couples the status of civil union would give them similar rights to married couples without defining their relationship as a marriage. During the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv earlier this month, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) was booed off the stage due to his party’s disavowal of support for full gay marriage.
Livni’s initiative was shelved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid pressure from the Orthodox Jewish Home party, which vowed to veto the bill if it is brought up for debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
On Wednesday, Obama hailed the Supreme Court’s decision, declaring the court “has righted a wrong, and our country is better off for it.”
Acknowledging that many Americans object to gay marriage on religious grounds, he stressed that nothing in the decision changes how religious institutions define and consecrate marriage.
His statement came moments after he telephoned his congratulations to gay rights advocate Chad Griffin and plaintiffs in a California gay marriage case.
“Through your courage, you’re helping out a whole lot of people.” Obama told them.