Israel Must Allow Civil Unions for All

In Israel, where religious institutions hold a monopoly over everything related to marriage and divorce, the struggle for solutions to the many problems that presents must be a shared one.

Habayit Hayehudi - like other parties - does not want to include same-sex partners in the legislative initiatives for a civil-union law. For now, three bills on the matter are waiting in the Knesset: one for same-sex couples and two for any kind of couple. Just as it is undesirable to have civil unions only for same-sex couples, it is undesirable to have civil unions for all couples other than same-sex ones.

The appropriate solution is separating religion from state and having marriage as a civil institution only, while preserving the possibility of a religious ceremony for those who desire one. But without the state's involvement, and given the present political situation, civil unions may very well prove an alternative to civil marriages.

In any case, civil unions would only be a suitable alternative if they meet a number of criteria. They must be open to everyone, without discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. They must grant rights equal to those granted to married couples. And they must guarantee that a union's dissolution will remain in the hands of the registrar of civil unions and family courts, not the Rabbinate.

The draft proposed by the Justice Ministry speaks of a "registry of joint living" instead of civil unions and meets only the first condition of the three listed above. The bill does not guarantee full equality for civil-union couples, and it discriminates against them regarding immigration to Israel. It also delays the application of the adoption and surrogacy laws for 18 months from the day of the union, and even provides an opening to let the Rabbinate claim that the couple is married and any divorce must take place at the Rabbinate. The Justice Ministry must correct these flaws in the bill and guarantee that the rights of common-law spouses who do not enter a civil union are not harmed.

Now the first condition is also in danger. Habayit Hayehudi's threat to "veto" the inclusion of same-sex partners in the bill could lead to legislation that would discriminate against lesbians, gays bisexuals and transgender people. In Israel, where religious institutions hold a monopoly over everything related to marriage and divorce, the struggle for solutions for couples who don't want to or cannot marry through the Rabbinate or the parallel Muslim or Christian religious institutions must be a common struggle. A civil-union law that does not include same-sex partners would not only be constitutionally flawed, it would be a compromise at the expense of the LGBT community. Knesset members must not be part of such a step.