Population Authority agrees to start registering Utah ‘Zoom weddings’

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

Sapir and Gili Zeelon get married over Zoom through a wedding officiant in Utah in January 2021. (Courtesy: Sapir Zeelon)
Sapir and Gili Zeelon get married over Zoom through a wedding officiant in Utah in January 2021. (Courtesy: Sapir Zeelon)

The Population and Immigration Authority has agreed to start registering the hundreds of couples who got married online through the US State of Utah this week, after initially refusing to do so despite an explicit order from the High Court of Justice.

Last month, the High Court ordered the Interior Ministry to begin recognizing these marriages, despite an ongoing appeal by the government against the legitimacy of the weddings, which are conducted over video conferencing software, with the couple in Israel and the officiant in Utah. Due to a 2020 rule change in Utah, such online weddings are considered valid, giving Israelis who don’t want to or can’t marry through the Rabbinate an opportunity to legally get married in Israel. Some 600 Israelis have gotten married this way in the past three years.

Israel’s Interior Ministry has fought against these marriages in court twice, claiming that they were in fact conducted in Israel — and not in Utah — and were thus not legitimate, but lost both times. The State Attorney’s Office appealed the rulings to the High Court of Justice on similar grounds last month. In the meantime, the High Court has ruled that the lower courts’ orders stand and that all those married through Utah should be registered as such by the Population Authority, with the understanding that these could be overturned in the future if the court accepts the state’s appeal.

Though the Population Authority quickly approved the marriages of the couples who were part of the initial lawsuit seeking recognition, it refused to do so for other couples married through the State of Utah, despite the High Court explicitly ruling that all of the marriages should be recognized and not only those directly involved in the case. In response, the religious freedom organization Hiddush sent a letter to the Population Authority, accusing it of violating the court’s orders.

“In light of Hiddush’s letter, a number of couples informed us today that the Population Authority had decided to register all of the couples married through ‘Utah weddings,’ including those not involved in the lawsuit. In a clarifying telephone call with the office of the Population Authority, it was confirmed that the ban had been lifted and that their offices had been instructed to start the registration,” the organization says.

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