Israeli lesbian couple awarded NIS 60,000 after being turned away from wedding hall
Reception hall near Jerusalem owned by messianic Jews cited religious reasons for refusal to hold couple’s wedding party.
The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ordered the owners of an Israeli reception hall to pay damages to a lesbian couple after refusing to host their wedding for ideological reasons.
Following the precedent-setting ruling, the Moshav Yad Hashmona events hall must pay the couple, Tal Ya'akovovich and Yael Biran, NIS 60,000 in damages.
The court has also ordered the owners of the reception hall to pay NIS 20,000 in legal and court fees, which is on the relatively high side.
The fine will teach the public a lesson about the value of equality and tolerance, in addition to compensating the same-sex couple, the judge explained.
The plaintiffs were married in England in 2008 in a civil ceremony, and wanted to host a wedding party for their families and friends in Israel. The couple contracted to hold the event at the reception hall in Yad Hashmona. But when the reception hall owners realized that the wedding party was for a lesbian couple, they informed Ya'akovoich and Biran that the hall does not hold events for same-sex couples, and canceled their reservation.
The couple was represented by attorney Ira Hadar, who specializes in gay rights cases. In her lawsuit on behalf of the couple, Hadar claimed her clients suffered discrimination and humiliation based on sexual orientation.
In the end, the couple held their part at nearby Kibbutz Tzuba.
During the proceedings, it was revealed that the owners of the reception hall belong to a sect of messianic Jews, and according to their religious beliefs, homosexuality is an “abomination.” They based their opposition on verses from the bible and new testaments, claiming that their business has a religious character, and should be allowed to practice freedom of beliefs and religion, by refusing to host a same-sex wedding. The owners added that should they be required to hold such events, they would be forced to close the reception hall.
The judge accepted the couple’s claim, and declared that a reception hall is not a religious institution, and must grant equal services to the public.
“Every person who opens a public business in Israel should know that they must serve the whole public equally, without discrimination, according to laws, which cover sexual orientation as well. As soon as the defendants opened their doors to all, they cannot close them for those who they believe do not meet the requirements found in the Bible or New Testament, thereby damaging their dignity and sensitivities,” explained the judge.
The judge also decided that humiliating statements made against gays and lesbians constitute sexual harassment. “Rejection, verbal abuse, and humiliation of another based on their sex or sexual orientation constitutes sexual harassment,” wrote the judge. “Sexual harassment does not only include sexual exploitation, but also, and perhaps principally, ridiculing another person for their sex or sexual orientation… and in this case, the plaintiffs were ridiculed because of their sexual orientation,” continued the judge.
Speaking to Haaretz from London, where the couple lives, Yaakovovich said that they are pleased with the court’s ruling. “We very much believe that we were right, and consider the court’s ruling to be very important. Aside from our personal compensation, the warning to reception halls was very significant,” said Yaakovovich.
She added that she doesn’t expect same-sex couples to approach the reception hall in Yad Hashomna, but expressed hope that the owners of the hall wouldn’t refuse to hold gay or lesbian events. “Everyone needs to choose where they celebrate. I would be interested to know if they accept or reject same-sex couples in the future, but personally, I wouldn’t approach the reception half after reading about it in the paper, because I wouldn’t feel welcome. Aside from the business in Yad Hashmona, it is a message to reception halls throughout Israel.”
Hadar praised the court’s decision and stressed that it sets and important precedent. “It is the first time that the law preventing entry to public places based on discrimination against gays and lesbians was applied to reception halls refusing to hold same-sex weddings. Despite the owners’ central claim that the reception hall is a religious space, the court decided that the principal of equality trumps the argument for freedom of religion and beliefs,” said Hadar.
“Another important precedent which was set includes the fact that humiliation and discrimination of lesbians was defined as sexual harassment,” added Hadar.
“Treating gays and lesbians as inferior amounts to sexual harassment. That is a very significant statement made by the court. I hope that the general public will understand the message and that gays and lesbians are entitled to more than just equality, but also proper and fair treatment,” said Hadar.