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Jerusalem court orders state to recognize online marriages performed via Utah

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Jerusalem District Court has ordered the Interior Ministry to recognize marriages conducted over video-conferencing through the US state of Utah, in another step toward civil marriage in the State of Israel.

Just before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the state of Utah reformed its marriage process, allowing ceremonies to be performed through video conferencing software, such as Zoom, so long as at least one of the people involved — including the officiant — was located physically in the state.

The State of Israel recognizes only religious marriages, a situation that often causes trouble for interfaith couples, couples where one of the partners is not considered Jewish according to Orthodox law, and LGBT couples. However, it recognizes civil marriages performed abroad, meaning Israelis could be married by the state of Utah while staying home.

However, the Interior Ministry has refused to recognize the Utah marriages and update their status on identity cards and in the official state records. The government argued that despite the official Utah license, these weddings were in fact held in Israel, not in Utah.

The decision by judge Avraham Rubin in the class-action suit, brought by the religious rights group Hiddush on behalf of eight couples, marks a broader victory than an earlier ruling by a Lod District Court in favor of the Utah nuptials, which had found that the legally significant licensing and registration were indeed performed in the state of Utah.

An Israeli couple marries in an online civil marriage ceremony under the auspices of Utah County in the US State of Utah. (Courtesy WedinSea)

Rubin orders the state to begin recognizing the marriages immediately, though the Population Authority may use bureaucratic workarounds to wait until the government decides whether it will appeal the decision before the High Court of Justice.

Neither the Population Authority nor Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose office controls the Population Authority, immediately respond to a request for comment.

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