gay marriage
Maayan Zafrir, an Israeli citizen, and his husband Felipe Javier Episcopo. Photo by Nir Keidar
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An Interior Ministry regulation prevents the same-sex partners of Israeli citizens from receiving Israeli citizenship. The ministry's Population Registry tells the couples they will have to settle for permanent residency status only.

One such couple married in Canada, and is recognized as a married couple in the Population Registry. But the non-Israeli half of the couple is barred from receiving citizenship due to a regulation that defines a married couple as consisting of a man and a woman. One consequence is that the couple is recognized as being married when it comes to paying taxes and the like, but not when it comes to applying for and receiving social benefits.

Maayan Zafrir, an Israeli citizen, met Felipe Javier Episcopo, of Uruguay over the Internet in 1998. In 2001, after meeting several times in Israel and in Uruguay, Javier Episcopo moved to Israel to start life together as a couple. They began the process of having Javier Episcopo recognized as Zafrir's common-law partner. Javier Episcopo received a visa and a work permit upon arrival in Israel. He was granted temporary residency in 2005.

The couple married, in Canada, in 2008, and returned to Israel. They submitted their wedding certificate to the Interior Ministry, which changed their status in the Population Registry and in their identity cards to reflect their married status.

Zafrir and Javier Episcopo are the parents of two-year-old twins.

In July 2009 Zafrir and Javier Episcopo applied for full recognition as a married couple, rather than as a common-law couple. A Population Registry said they would have to wait a year before their request was approved - an odd statement, considering that on the one hand that for citizenship purposes Israeli law defines a married couple as a man and a women, while on the other hand there is no such waiting period for couples consisting of a man and a woman.

The agency declined to comment for this article on its strange conduct. In June 2010 the couple submitted a citizenship request for Episcopo, explaining that he still had not been granted permanent residency status. Two months later the request was rejected, with no explanation.

Zafrir and Javier Episcopo turned for help to the New Family organization, which advocates for equal family rights for unconvential families. The organization appealed the decision with the Population Registry, which did not respond to the appeal.

"This is a case of clear discrimination, not only in the sphere of the states' relationship with its citizens, but also in relation to the children," said attorney Irit Rosenblum, New Family's founder and chairwoman.

"It's difficult to comprehend the states' reasons for it's humiliating and discriminatory actions, since it already recognized the couple, who are raising two children together," Rosenblum said. "There are 18,000 same-sex families in Israel, and it's about time the state treated them equally and respectfully, not only when it is obliged to do so by a legal order. If the Population Registry does not change its position, we will have to no choice but to petition the High Court of Justice," she added.

"When the state wants to collect taxes, it's very convenient for it to recognize our marriage, but when we demand our benefits, it just doesn't work out," Zafrir said. "The discrimination wouldn't bother me that much if we didn't have children, but as things stand if anything should happen to me Felipe isn't recognized as their father, because without residency or citizenship he won't be able to adopt them or stay here without me. It's an absurd situation. If they recognize our marriage, they should recognize it all the way," he said. ^