The Knesset on Wednesday voted down a bill to allow civil marriage. The bill, sponsored by MK Nitzan Horowitz (New Movement-Meretz ), was defeated in its preliminary reading by a vote of 40-17.

The bill stated that divorce proceedings would be conducted in the same fashion as the marriage, whether religious or civil, unless the couple agreed in writing to divorce in a different manner.

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Several couples who want to marry in civil ceremonies appeared in the Knesset for the debate, including some dressed in full wedding attire. MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima ) even addressed the Knesset wearing a veil.

But most Kadima MKs were absent from the Knesset plenum for the vote and refused to support civil marriage.

"An enormous majority of Israelis has supported freedom of choice in marriage for years," said Horowitz. "Nonetheless, the ultra-Orthodox factions have once again succeeded in causing the coalition to reject the proposed law. No less serious is the absence of most Kadima members from the vote, in explicit contradiction to the statements of the party's leaders on their commitment to the secular public in Israel. The Knesset once again gave in to religious coercion and political cowardice and is depriving hundreds of thousands of Israelis of a basic civil right.

"I will continue to fight until every Israeli citizen can freely choose the manner in which they want to marry," he added.

Even as the Knesset was voting down the bill, two researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev were unveiling the results of their recent research on the issue of civil marriage.

Two thirds of the Israeli public supports allowing civil marriage, the study found, but only one third of Israelis want to be married in that fashion.

The study was conducted by Dr. Yariv Feniger and Dr. Guy Ben-Porat. Feniger is a lecturer in Ben-Gurion's education department, while Ben-Porat is a senior lecturer in the university's department of public policy and administration. Their paper was based on a survey of 605 interviewees, who constituted a representative sample of Israel's adult Jewish population.

When asked if they would marry in a civil ceremony if it were possible in Israel, 31 percent of the respondents said they either were sure they would or thought they would. But 63 percent said they either were sure they would not or thought they would not.

Even among nonobservant Jews who supported civil marriage, almost one half said they would not choose such a marriage. And about 70 percent of nonobservant respondents said marriage in an Orthodox religious ceremony was important to them. In light of this data, the authors noted that support for civil marriage does not necessarily translate into a desire to be married in this fashion.

Currently, "there is a price for choosing to marry outside the [official] rabbinate, or to create a family unit without marriage at all," Ben-Porat and Feniger explained in their paper. "The cost of marriage abroad and the bureaucratic complications related to rights deter many couples from choosing non-Orthodox marriage."

The study also examined the views on civil marriage held by voters for the four largest parties in the Knesset. Among Kadima, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor voters, a large majority, over 80 percent, support civil marriage. But slightly less than half of Likud voters said they supported civil marriage in Israel.

There was no significant difference between Yisrael Beiteinu's voters and those of Kadima and Labor on this issue, even though the former include a much larger proportion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who generally view this issue as critical.