Same-sex couples tax law passes Knesset reading

Stormy session sees bill approved on preliminary reading but its long-term future remains unclear

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yair Lapid (left) speaking with Naftali Bennett (right) during a plenum session in the Knesset, April 22, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yair Lapid (left) speaking with Naftali Bennett (right) during a plenum session in the Knesset, April 22, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A controversial bill that would grant the identical tax benefits to same-sex couples with children as those given to heterosexual parents was approved during a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, but not without more of the drama that has plagued the bill since its inception.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid introduced the bill, which was sponsored by his Yesh Atid colleague MK Adi Kol, and it passed comfortably with 40 votes in favor against 20 opposed.

“[The law] comes to redress injustice and allow same-sex parents to also enjoy tax credit points,” Lapid said.

However, Meretz party MKs stormed out of the hall before the vote in protest against confusion over exactly what deal was struck between the Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties over the future of the bill, and in particular, whether any references to “same-sex” were to be removed.

Coalition partners Yesh Atid and Jewish Home agreed on Tuesday to bring the bill to the Knesset for a preliminary reading although the two parties gave different versions of just what it was that they agreed on.

The national-religious Jewish Home party, which strongly opposed the law at first because it saw the references to gay couples as a step toward legalizing civil marriage in Israel, claimed that after passing the preliminary reading the law was to be changed. The updated version, from which of all mention of same-sex couples was to be expunged, would instead only empower the interior minister to apply regulations giving gay couples tax benefits equal to those of heterosexual couples.

By contrast, Yesh Atid asserted that the law would continue as originally intended.

“This law will not go away and it will be promoted in the standard process of passing laws,” Lapid said. “Because it comes from the sacred principle that says every person has a right to live.”

Nonetheless, Lapid appeared to be evasive when challenged by opposition MKs to give his assurances that the law would be advanced in its current format and responded only that it would necessarily be reworked in the coalition committee, over which he does not have control.

During the vote, the only Jewish Home MKs to give their approval were party leader Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked. Other Jewish Home MKs abstained in protest against Lapid not mentioning the proposed future changes in the wording and scope of the law.

The legislation aims to alter current Israeli law, which grants higher tax breaks for mothers than for fathers and thus puts male gay couples at a disadvantage. The benefits for each child can reach over NIS 2,600 ($740) a year.

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