The masculine mystique
Over the last three months, 14 male couples have taken advantage of the right to register as married couples in Israel, but not a single lesbian couple has made use of this right, according to Interior Ministry data. Eleven of the Israeli couples married in Canada and three others in the United States, Belgium and Germany. Last November, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Ministry of Interior must register in the population registry those same-sex couples who present it with a valid marriage certificate from another country. The first couples registered at the end of November.
The Ministry of Interior data includes only those couples of which both partners are Israeli citizens or hold some legal status in the country. If one partner is not included in the population registry, his or her gender will not appear in the computer and therefore there is no way of knowing if the couple is a homosexual or lesbian couple. The significance of this fact lies in the possibility that other couples have registered, but only one partner is entered into the registry of residents.
Last week, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that an Israeli woman living in Boston, who got married there, registered her marriage to an American female partner at the Israeli consulate. This marriage has yet to be included in the Ministry of Interior's database. In any case, the couple doesn't appear in the ministry's data because only one partner is Israeli.
The director general of the Jerusalem Open House, Noa Satat, was not surprised by the data showing that only homosexual couples had registered so far. "Traveling to Canada is very expensive. There is a difference between men, who receive two salaries of men, and female couples receiving two salaries of women. The solution approved by the High Court of Justice of getting married abroad is very elitist." She says the figures are even more dramatic in light of the fact that women are much more inclined than men to maintain long-term relationships.
Satat notes that one of the reasons it doesn't pay for women to invest in traveling to Canada is that doing so affords very little change in legal status. Attorney Jonathan Harland and Eyal Walroch were among the couples who petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand that their marriage be registered. What exactly has changed since they registered as a married couple at the end of last November? The truth? Apart from the real and symbolic knowledge that they are registered as married, not much is different. They showed their identity cards to friends and colleagues at work. Everyone rejoiced, says Walroch. No one reacted negatively. Walroch changed the status of his work file to married. But because same-sex significant others already enjoy numerous rights, the change in registration to married does not grant additional rights.
Several couples approached the two and asked for advice on the option of getting married in Canada. But Walroch says that even if these couples do decide to travel to Canada, the time that passes between the wedding and the actual registration of the marriage may take as long as six months. The Canadians only send the couple their marriage documents after three months. Then the papers must be forwarded to the Canadian embassy, which has to confirm that they are original Canadian documents.
The good news is that the Housing Ministry is joining the revolution in granting equal rights to same-sex couples. The bad news, at least when it comes to mortgages, is that it is still unclear whether the revolution will apply to all couples or just to those few couples that got married abroad.
Even after the decision to grant equal rights has been made, a technical obstacle remains. The computers at government ministries are not programmed to recognize same-sex couples. Last month the Housing Ministry's deputy director general for population, Yisrael Schwartz, informed Attorney Dan Yakir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that the ministry's computers are undergoing a gay-friendly revolution. "We are now in the process of adjusting the ministry's computerized systems to accept requests from same-sex couples and we are eliminating all the existing controls that prevent the regular absorption of such requests," he said. The computerized process of recognizing same-sex couples is expected to be completed shortly.
And what about the contents of the revolution? Housing Ministry Spokesman Kobi Bleich told Haaretz that "same-sex couples can obtain eligibility for a subsidized mortgage as a married couple. This means an increase in the size of the loan and better terms for the purchase of an apartment." However, Bleich also noted that "recognizing such couples as married is a derivative of the High Court of Justice decision in the matter of recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples."
Indeed, there was suspicion that the revolution would only affect the few couples that marry abroad. This was the case even though the Housing and Construction Ministry does not grant mortgages to unmarried heterosexual couples either. Bleich confirms: "The Ministry of Housing and Construction grants eligibility to married couples and individuals. Couples that are not married, regular and same-sex, are not recognized by our ministry."
So there is no mortgage or assistance for same-sex couples? This, too, is unclear. Yakir is waging a legal battle on behalf of two couples. They are a homosexual couple who purchased an apartment in Kiryat Shmona and are seeking a grant, which encourages the purchase of apartments in the Galilee, for the sum of $25,000; and a female couple of U.S. immigrants, who want to take out a mortgage to purchase an apartment in Jerusalem. He says Schwartz himself asked him to forward the details of the two couples so their requests can be dealt with. The mystery remains. Within a few weeks it will surely be resolved.