Justice Min. Retreats on Move to Bar Gays From Inheritance Law

Friedmann reverses decision to define common-law marriage as between 'a man and a woman' in bill update.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann has reversed his decision to define common-law marriage as between "a man and a woman" in the proposed new Inheritance Law. The original wording of the bill defines "partners who live together in a common household" as each other's legal inheritors.

The proposed bill to update the present law, dating from 1965, was made by a public commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel.

Friedmann had earlier proposed to change the original recommendations, harming the inheritance rights of same-sex couples. But on Tuesday Friedmann informed the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that he "would not advance the proposed Inheritance Law, if the matter would harm the property rights of same-sex couples."

Over the next few days, Friedmann will meet with representatives of ACRI and other public groups that protested the earlier legislative changes.

The Turkel commission was appointed in 1999 to reform the 1965 Inheritance Law. In the spring of 2006, the committee proposed to change the law by changing the definition of a couple from "husband and wife" so it would apply to both gay and heterosexual couples. The justice minister then decided to limit the proposed Inheritance Law to "a man and a woman who lead a family life in a joint household."

Friedmann had originally intended on making the changes to the law while including explanatory notes stating that the changes were not intended to change the prevailing interpretations made by the courts regarding common-law marriage, including same-sex couples. But after realizing that re-legislating the "man and wife" clause was likely to disallow such a liberal interpretation, it was decided to not make the change.

The proposed Inheritance Law will be separated from the new civil legal codification, known as the Property Law. Friedmann will continue to advance the rest of the civil law proposal without the inheritance section after he reaches an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on applying the new law also to the rabbinical courts.