Support for equal rights to gay couples
Knesset support for equal rights to gay couples, Dec. 14, 2013.
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The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will debate several bills Sunday that were initiated by Yesh Atid to promote the rights of the gay community and adjust the status quo on religion and state. The move comes as a new Haaretz poll says that 70 percent of the public supports equal rights for gays.

The first bill is the one Health Minister Yael German announced last week that would allow the unmarried – whether heterosexual or homosexual – to use local surrogate mothers. The second bill was initiated by MK Ofer Shelah to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was voted down by the same panel last week, but is being raised again after both German and Limor Livnat (Likud) requested a revote.

A third bill, proposed by MK Adi Kol, would prohibit the state from asking citizens to name their fathers on official documents. According to Kol, current law does not recognize new family compositions, including children born to lesbian couples or the children of homosexuals who cannot or do not want to single out their biological father. The bill would allow people to choose which parent to name on the form, or to name both parents.

Another bill, initiated by MK Aliza Lavie, is liable to further inflame the current tensions between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. The bill would cancel the dual authority that the rabbinic courts and family courts have over various issues, which leads to a “race of jurisdiction” between divorcing parties, who rush to file claims in the court they favor, thus precluding the other court from hearing the claims.

Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan strongly condemned Yesh Atid’s attempt to promote legislation on religious-state issues without coordinating with Habayit Hayehudi. “All issues of religion and state in this Knesset are on my shoulders alone,” Ben Dahan said. “If you want to advance proposals on issues of religion and state, the route is through me, or it will not happen. There’s nothing to do – it’s not pleasant, I know,” he said last week.

While the coalition members bicker about promoting LGBT rights through legislation, MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) has compiled a list of 12 ways to benefit the community through a ministerial decision to change regulations or a more sympathetic legal interpretation, with no need for legislation. These include rules that would make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt, help them enter into surrogacy arrangements, or prevent transgenders’ embarrassment when asked to cite their gender on official documents.

Shaffir has urged ministers and MKs who have expressed their support for the LGBT community to adopt the proposals, which she compiled with the help of attorneys and community activists.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of Israelis support equal rights for the gay community, according to a poll conducted for Haaretz by the Dialog Institute under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of the Tel Aviv University Statistics Department. There is relatively broad support for this among the religious, traditional and Arab communities, though ultra-Orthodox Jews remain firmly opposed.

According to the poll conducted on Thursday, 89 percent of secular people say they are in favor of full equality, as did 72 percent of traditional respondents and 46 percent of those who defined themselves as religious and Arabs. Only 8 percent of Haredim expressed support. Support for equal rights for gays is higher among women than men.

Many of the various bills being proposed to equalize gay rights would be unnecessary if same-sex couples could marry in Israel, since the unmarried status is the source of discrimination in many areas, but Jewish couples can only marry through the Rabbinate unless they go abroad.

According to the survey, 59 percent of respondents support civil union legislation that would provide a solution for gay couples, while 33 percent oppose it. Among the secular and traditional and among immigrants from the Soviet Union, there is particularly broad support. However, a decisive majority of the religious, Arabs and Haredim oppose same-sex marriage in Israel.

About two-thirds of respondents supported giving same-sex couples the opportunity to undergo surrogacy procedures and adopt children in Israel: 67 percent of traditional respondents and 55 percent of religious Jews said they favor allowing adoption by single-sex couples, while 66 percent of traditional respondents and 42 percent of the religious expressed support for allowing gays and lesbians to undergo surrogacy procedures.

On a personal level, the survey reflects a growing acceptance of gays among Israelis. Eighty-two percent of respondents said they would employ gays or lesbians, though among the Haredim only 36 percent agreed, with 55 percent saying they would not employ them.

Seventy percent of respondents said that if their child were to say they were gay, they would accept their sexual orientation, though most of the Haredim and Arab respondents said they would not. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they’d allow their children to be friends with the children of same-sex couples, while 24 percent said they would not. Again, the resistance was primarily recorded among Haredi and Arab respondents.