Same-sex union ministerial debate postponed by PM

Netanyahu says there is no consensus in coalition over bill seeking to establish equal marital rights for unrecognized couples

A marcher waves a Jewish Pride flag at Jerusalem's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A marcher waves a Jewish Pride flag at Jerusalem's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday delayed a debate initially set to take place Sunday afternoon concerning a bill to recognize civil union for same-sex partners, as well as civil marriage for those who do not meet the rabbinate’s standards for religious marriage.

The prime minister said his decision was based on the fact that there is currently no consensus among the coalitions’ factions regarding promotion of the issue, and said the discussion would only occur once such a consensus has been reached.

The bill, which was set to be considered by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, was initiated by MK Meir Sheetrit of the Hatnua party. Sources in the party said they expected broad support from the coalition, with committee members from Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and some from Likud expressing approval for same-sex unions, Haaretz reported.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) was set to present the bill to ministers on Sunday.

The Orthodox Jewish Home party, however, said it would exercise its veto right to stymie the bill. The party said it wanted to establish a committee to examine the issue before bringing a government-sponsored bill to Knesset vote.

Israelis who aren’t registered as belonging to an organized religion — converts are only recognized as Jewish if they’ve undergone Orthodox conversion — are often forced to marry abroad for lack of options in the country. The same is true for couples in which the two members don’t share the same faith.

“We want to find a solution for the people who came here under the Law of Return and who find themselves unable to marry. We are talking about some 300,000 people,” Livni told Army Radio Sunday morning.

The Law of Return, which determines who is eligible for automatic citizenship, has a far broader definition of who is a Jew than does the state-run rabbinate, so some people considered Jewish for the sake of immigration rights are nevertheless not allowed to marry as Jews.

“The bill will make it possible for them to marry and be recognized by the state,” Livni said. “It’s an appropriate solution that has been a long time in the making, and has been floated many times, but has previously been met with strong opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties.”

In April, a report by Hiddush, an Israeli NGO that monitors religious freedom, claimed that Israel is ranked in the bottom 23 percent of world nations in terms of the restrictions it imposes on marriage — on a par with countries such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

An Israeli couple after a civil marriage in Cyprus. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
An Israeli couple after a civil marriage in Cyprus. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“Only recognized religious marriage ceremonies are allowed,” the text of the report read. “For Jews, only weddings that are held according to strict Orthodox standards are accepted. There is no option for civil marriage or interfaith marriage. Weddings conducted outside of the country are recognized. 300,000 citizens are defined as ‘without religion’ and they are unable to get married in the country.”

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.

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