The State of Israel has agreed for the first time to register an overseas adoption by a gay couple and to grant the child Israeli citizenship.

The landmark case involves a Cambodia-born boy, now eight years old, who was adopted in 2000 in the United States by two men who hold American and Israeli citizenship. Following his adoption, the boy received American citizenship and was also converted to Judaism. The parents returned to Israel shortly after the adoption, but their applications to the Interior Ministry to recognize the adoption and grant their child citizenship were unsuccessful. Since 2001, the child has lived in Israel on a temporary residence visa that is extended annually.

In 2002, the parents, represented by the New Family organization, filed a High Court of Justice petition against the interior minister. The ruling on that petition has been delayed pending the court's decision in an earlier case involving a lesbian woman's U.S. adoption of her partner's biological child. A few months ago, the male couple wrote a personal letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, asking him to put an end to the state's cruel treatment of them and their son.

In a letter two weeks ago to New Family's director, attorney Irit Rosenblum, the senior deputy state prosecutor, Einat Golomb, wrote that the male couple's case had been discussed again and it was decided to register the adoption in the Interior Ministry's population registry and grant Israeli citizenship to the child "in view of the special circumstances of the case in question and the long time the minor has resided in Israel legally."

Rosenblum said in response that the decision is significant in that it constitutes recognition of overseas adoption by same-sex couples, and effectively recognition of same-sex families.

"The meaning of the decision is clear: The state directly and fully recognizes same-sex couples as parents, akin to heterosexual couples, who can adopt a child overseas and register without constraints as his parents," she said.

One of the boy's parents, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Haaretz yesterday that over their years in Israel they had appealed to every interior, justice, and social affairs minister in office to meet with them, but were turned down.

"We had a problem entering and leaving the country, registering for school, at the dental clinic," he said. "They always ask what our relation is to the boy because he is not listed on our identity cards. Everywhere I had to say that we have a High Court petition and we are waiting for a ruling. Everywhere I had to fight and provide explanations and try to persuade."

This parent is disappointed with the way the case was handled by the High Court, which delayed ruling for several years. "We didn't buy a Greek island," he says, refering to an affair involving former prime minister Ariel Sharon. "Here was a problem in the social realm, basic human rights, and the High Court did not give us a solution."

Mike Hamel, chairman of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, heralded the state's decision as a major change in policy regarding overseas adoptions by gay and lesbian couples.

"The State of Israel is starting to figure out that we are living in the 21st century, and that men have a right to raise a family without the parents' sexual orientation being a factor," he said.

"In recent months, we have been witness to the fact that heterosexual parenting is no guarantee for successful parenting," Hamel added.