While the debate on gay rights heats up in the Knesset, 70 percent of Israelis say they support “equal rights” for homosexual couples, according to a poll released Sunday. This may not include the right to marry, though.
Support for equality was relatively high across the spectrum, with 89% of secular respondents, 72% of traditional respondents and 46% of those who identified themselves as religious or Arab coming out in favor, according to the survey by the daily Haaretz. The lowest levels of support were registered in the ultra-Orthodox community, with just 8% saying they were in favor of expanded recognition for gay rights.
Last week, hundreds of Israeli Facebook profile pages were colored in blue and white equality signs as Israelis set out to express their solidarity with the country’s LGBT community and push for the advancement of legislation expanding the rights of gay couples, including increased child tax credits. Health Minister Yael German announced Wednesday she would present legislation to enable unmarried individuals and gay couples to use surrogate mothers.
According to the survey, 64% of Israelis support allowing same-sex couples to use a surrogate, including 66% of those who identify themselves as traditional and 42% of religious respondents. Support was even higher on the issue of adoption, as 66% of the overall population, 67% of the traditional and 55% of the religious population were in favor of allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
German’s bill joins a host of measures being advanced by some coalition parties to liberalize Israeli marriage laws. The bill, along with a resuscitated bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and yet another that would automatically send divorce cases to civil family court unless both sides agree to turn to a religious court, is slated for debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
Gay rights in Israel have become a point of contention in the current government, particularly between the Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties. In October, ministers from Yesh Atid proposed legislation that would create a civil marriage system that would operate separately from the current religious system. Jewish Home has opposed some legislation that would change the status quo of religious control over family and personal status law, and as part of the coalition agreement, holds the right to veto any legislation that does so.
Currently, all Israeli marriages are legally valid only if they are conducted in formal state religious institutions, whether through the Jewish rabbinate, Muslim sharia institutions, Catholic canon courts or a handful of other recognized, state-funded religious denominations. The law prevents hundreds of thousands of people who are not recognized as Jewish under rabbinical law from marrying under law, as well as homosexual couples and others who do not wish to have a rabbinic marriage. As of today, their only recourse is to marry in a foreign country.
About 59% of Israelis support a legislative solution for gay marriage, the poll found, a strong majority among the secular and traditional respondents. But unlike other gay rights issues, it does not enjoy even moderate support among the religious, Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish respondents, according to the poll.