Israel Nature and Parks Authority workers refused to let a gay couple with two children enter two sites over the weekend, claiming the family's membership was for straight couples only.
"A couple is a man and a woman, not a man and a man," the cashier at the Banias reserve said, before finally letting them in. At another site a staff member refused to let them in and insisted they buy an additional ticket for one of the adults.
One of the men told Haaretz that INPA's subscription manager Dalia Peres, whom he contacted after returning home, told him the the worker who wouldn't let them in had "complied with regulations." At the same time she said INPA does not discriminate against gay couples.
Peres suggested having both men's names on the INPA membership card.
Last Thursday the couple went on a two-day trip to the north with their two children. One of the men has a family membership, which includes free entrance to a couple plus children to the INPA's 54 parks and reserves.
On the first day the family headed for the Banias Reserve, in the Golan Heights. When the men presented the membership card at the entrance, the cashier said they must pay for an additional adult because "a couple is a man and a woman, not a man and a man."
After arguing with the couple and failing to reach her superiors, she relented, and agreed to let them into the site without paying for an extra admission.
The next day, after a hike along Snir stream, a tributary of the Jordan River, the family traveled to the Ayun stream nature reserve. At the entrance an INPA worker, Nasser Mohamed, who said he was in charge, stopped them.
He told the man whose name is on the subscription that he could enter with the children, but his partner must pay for entering. "The subscription is for a man, a woman and two children," he said.
When the men said that was not what the card said at all, Mohamed referred them to the members call center, which was closed for the weekend. Twenty minutes later, after visitors crowded round the persistent couple, Mohamed consented to use his radio to consult his superiors.
The couple said he stuck to his guns even after the consultation and told them "there's no such thing" [as a gay couple]. At this stage they decided to buy another ticket for NIS 25.
"These incidents spoiled the rest of the trip and kept us awake at night," one of the men said. "Many kinds of families exist in this era, and not every couple is registered as such on its members' identity cards. That does not mean that couple is not a family. The worker told us he couldn't accept two spouses of the same sex. There's a name for that kind of behavior. It's called discrimination."
On their return home, he wrote a complaint to INPA about "the consistent discrimination, humiliating treatment" the family had been subjected to on the two occasions.
Avner Pinchuk, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said INPA's conduct was undoubtedly discriminatory and improper. As a public authority INPA is obliged to treat everyone equally. Its staff not only flouted administrative law, but broke the law banning discrimination in products, services and entering entertainment and public places, he said.
The law stipulates that no one operating a public facility may discriminate in providing services on the basis of sexual proclivity, personal status, race, religion, nationality, gender, origin, view, political affiliation or disability. Those who violate the law are liable to a fine of up to NIS 150,000.
INPA said yesterday they reminded all their site workers of the regulations. "Clearly the couple deserve a deep apology for the way they were treated ... a family subscription is valid for the owner and any partner he chooses to bring," an authority spokesman said.
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