In principle, adoption by same-sex couples has been legal in Israel for almost a decade. In practice, only three same-sex couples have been able to adopt in Israel since then.
The Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry insists this is not a consequence of discrimination against same-sex couples. It’s more “complicated” than that, its spokeswoman said Monday.
But on Sunday, the state gave a very different indication in a submission to the High Court. Responding to a petition highlighting the near-impossibility for same-sex couples to adopt, it stated that “the professional opinion of the Child Welfare Services supports preserving the existing situation” — which prioritizes that the adopting couple be a man and a woman. This, the state noted, “takes into account the reality of Israeli society and the difficulty it may entail with regard to the child being adopted.” Adoption by same-sex parents would place an “additional burden” on the child, the state argued.
Amid a burgeoning furor Monday, with gay activists and several politicians accusing the government of homophobic policies, Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz attempted to put the cat back into bag. The statement submitted to the High Court on Sunday had been “poorly worded and should not have been stated as such,” his ministry said on his behalf. “The minister has no intention of preventing or denying anyone the ability to adopt from one group or another,” his spokesman claimed.
“Bullsh*t,” retorted Udi Ledergor, the chairman of the Association of Gay Fathers.
The ministry’s spokeswoman, Sharona Mann, said the ministry is recommending a “complete overhaul of the outdated law” on adoptions. “We want a full reform in the law — which is not connected to LGBT couples or any other group of couples,” she said. “It’s not connected to same-sex parents — it’s much bigger than that. We don’t want any couple in Israel to wait seven years to adopt…. Only after the reform is implemented should lawmakers be asked to change the law in favor of additional groups,” she added.
But the appellants are not impressed by talk of reform, given that there is no timetable for how long a reform of the adoption law could take. The retired Judge Yehoshua Gross has chaired a committee to explore reform recommendations for the adoption law for the past 10 years, noted Ledergor.
Ledergor’s Association, along with the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, filed a petition with the High Court in 2015 claiming that same-sex couples and unmarried couples are discriminated against in the adoption process. A hearing on the petition and the state’s response is scheduled for Thursday.
Around 100 children are adopted each year in Israel, with more than half of the children coming from abroad.
Since 2008, when single-sex couples and couples who have common law marriages became legally able to adopt within Israel, 550 such couples have submitted petitions to adopt, Haaretz reported. While only three same-sex couples were successful, more than 1,000 straight couples have adopted in the same period.
Ledergor said the current situation, while legally allowing gay parents to adopt, heavily discriminates against gay couples. “[Straight couples] get priority, and only if a certain child was unwanted by all the straight couples can that child be offered to a same-sex couple, single parents, or an unmarried couple,” said Ledergor.
Mann denied that the Ministry gives preference to straight couples over gay couples. Asked about the statistics, and the very different story they tell, she said the reasons for this are “complicated.”
“There are not always enough children, and sometimes there are not always suitable parents; the situation is not black and white,” she said.
Mann said the ministry, in its overall policy, attempts to recognize the difficulty of all adopted children. “We think that it’s complicated for any child growing up in a framework that is not his biological family. It’s not about if they grow up in a gay adopted family or something else,” she said. “From the beginning, it’s more difficult for them.”
Ledergor said the ministry’s attempt to deflect criticism by blaming the wording of the state’s submission was “total bullsh*t.”
“They are saying that a same-sex family is different in a bad way,” he charged. “They see gay families as deviant and they don’t want children to be adopted by these families.
“They’re trying to hide their homophobia behind procedural explanations,” he went on. They don’t want to make it a reality; they’ve been deliberating about it for 12 years. They’re not looking to make anyone’s lives better, they’re just trying to hide from the responsibility.”
Ledergor said when he and his partner decided to start a family, they examined their options and decided to pursue surrogacy in the United States, due to the difficulty of adopting within Israel, a common decision among gay couples. He and his partner now have three children through surrogacy.
Leading a chorus of criticism of the government’s position, gay Israeli pop star Harel Skaat targeted Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, accusing her of perpetuating stigmas for young children and treating homosexuals as second-rate citizens.
In a bitter post on his Facebook page Sunday, Skaat called on young members of the LGBT community to refuse to serve in the army and to stop paying taxes in protest. On Monday, directly criticizing Shaked (of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party), Skaat charged in an Army Radio interview: “She is only perpetuating the differentiation… All of your rights are taken away. You want to have children? Sorry, you aren’t good enough for that, you are a second-class citizen. Shaked is making children who go to kindergarten look at the children of gay parents in a different way.”
Meretz’s Michal Rozin, who heads the Knesset’s LGBT lobby, Yael German of Yesh Atid, Merav Michaeli of the Zionist Union and Kulanu’s Merav Ben Ari said in a statement that the state’s position was homophobic and showed the government’s cynical use of the homosexual community.
“This is a foolish and discriminatory decision that is accompanied by unprecedented homophobia,” they said. “The Israeli government is again abandoning the gay community and this highlights government’s cynical use of the community: In English, they boast about [being a gay-friendly country], but, in Hebrew, they deny basic rights.”
The hearing on Thursday will be the third in the case, as the first two hearings were more procedural. A decision is not expected on Thursday, as the judges will either require an additional hearing or time to deliberate. On Friday, the Association of Gay Fathers and Agudah — the LGBTQ Taskforce are organizing a demonstration in support of same-sex adoption.
Ledergor said the state’s position in its submission to the High Court was not a surprise, given the near impossibility of gay families to adopt despite the fact that the state ostensibly allows it. “What surprised us is how direct they are. Reading the three-page affidavit made clear what we all knew: They don’t think gay families should be allowed to adopt. The transparency took us by surprise.”
Stuart Winer and Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.