Israel Promises to End Same-sex Adoption Discrimination

State commits to introduce legislation by June 2018, responding to a court petition challenging the discrimination in the current law against gays and lesbians

A Tel Aviv demonstration in support of adoption rights by gay couples.
A Tel Aviv demonstration in support of adoption rights by gay couples, July 2017. Sign at top says: "I have 2 fathers and I am happy." Moti Milrod

The state committed on Sunday to introduce legislation that would equalize the adoption rights of same-sex couples by June 2018. The announcement was made during a hearing at the High Court of Justice on a petition seeking to eliminate discrimination in the adoption law against gays and lesbians.

The petition was filed by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers against the Justice Ministry and the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.

With the commitment from the state, the court dismissed the petition. Justice Esther Hayut told the petitioners that they had achieved the most that they could from their petition. "The state has lifted its harmful stance. I suggest not pursuing this point." The commitment represents shift in the state's stance.

In July, Haaretz reported that the government had officially informed the High Court that it would not end the discrimination against gays who want to adopt in Israel, noting that it believed that adoption by same-sex parents would add “additional baggage” for adopted children who already feel different from their peers.

But after this position was widely reported in the media, the state informed the court that it had no objection to such adoptions and intended to change its policy. The ministries involved asked the court to postpone a scheduled the hearing on the issue, and the High Court agreed, deferring it until this Sunday.

After verifying at Sunday's hearing that the state's new position reflects the positions of both the Justice Ministry and the Labor Ministry, Hayut said the time frame proposed by the state is also entirely reasonable. "If things don't progress at the proper pace, it's always possible to return and monitor [matters]. The courthouse doors are always open," she added.

"We are leaving the High Court with heads held high," the chairman of the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, Udi Ledergor, said at the conclusion of the hearing. "If the state doesn't meet its commitment, we will refile the petition." For her part, Riki Shapira, a lawyer for the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center, who represents the petitioners, said: "The Supreme Court noted the unprecedented achievement of this petition. We will continue to monitor the legislative process and insist on equal and full implementation of the law." Earlier she had insisted that the change take place by court order rather than legislative action.

At the end of August, the Labor Ministry submitted its new policy to the court, according to which same-sex couples would receive equal standing with heterosexual couples in adoptions, but it noted that such a change would require amending the law because the current wording of the law describes adoptive parent as “a man and his wife.”

“The current petition seeks to achieve this goal by interpretation, but the current law does not permit this, and therefore an amendment is required. Under these circumstances and considering that this issue has such major implications for Israeli society, it seems that the proper place to pursue this discussion is in the legislature,” the ministry’s response stated.

Only three same-sex families, two male couples and one female couple, have managed to adopt children in Israel since 2008, when the attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, who is now a Supreme Court justice, provided a new interpretation of the law making it legal for such couples to adopt. A report from the Labor Ministry obtained by Haaretz stated that, in contrast, 1,700 heterosexual couples adopted children over that same period, although this does include cases in which the adoptive parents are related to the child. Same-sex couples filed some 550 requests for adoption or surrogacy arrangements between 2008 through 2016.