Gay-rights Bills Fall in Israeli Cabinet Vote

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Two gay-rights bills fell in cabinet voting on Sunday: one that would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity, and one enshrining mortgage equality in law.

The bills fell in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

The five ministers from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayhudi parties rejected the proposal to outlaw discrimination against gay people, as expected. Minister Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) told colleagues during the debate that he would "agree to support the proposal only if discrimination based on residency or age is added."

All of the ministers, except abstaining Minister Yael German, opposed another bill giving gay couples the same mortgage benefits as straight married couples. The ministers reasoned that such benefits should be worked out through tax regulations, rather than through legislation.

The latest bills come after a week of flip-flopping over a bill that would grant gay parents the same tax breaks given to straight parents. That bill was put on hold after Habayit Hayehudi rejected it, reversed its veto and then reinstated it because it did not want same-sex couples explicitly mentioned in the legislation.

Although Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu were considered likely to vote against government support of gay-rights bills, many members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation had been expected to vote for it, including members of Hatnuah, Yesh Atid and Likud.

In addition to outlawing gender-based discrimination, the first bill - sponsored by Yesh Atid coalition whip MK Ofer Shelah and signed by members of every coalition party except Habayit Hayehudi - was also seen as a general statement about equal rights in Israel and is expected to serve as a blueprint for the courts regarding what constitutes discrimination.

MK Dov Khenin of Hadash, who sponsored the bill that would have extended mortgage benefits already granted to straight couples, to gay ones wrote:

“Same-sex couples who live as a couple in every way but cannot officially be recognized as a married couple do not receive tax credits as a couple and are forced to take out a mortgage as singles,” said Khenin. “This situation is unacceptable, since this is a discount given by the state to make it easier for couples in Israel who want to live in their own home. Same-sex couples work, pay taxes in accordance with the law and fulfill their obligations to the state, but do not receive any discount.”

There is no gay marriage in Israel, although the Interior Ministry is required by law to register legally valid gay marriages performed abroad.

Habayit Hayehudi did not say how it would vote on these specific bills when they come up for government support in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but one of its members, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, said Saturday night that his party opposes government recognition of same-sex couples and would act to prevent it.

“It’s not something that has to be legislated,” said Ariel. “What they want is formal state recognition on the mater, and we disagree with that. The state does not have to lead the way on recognition; it has to provide answers for these people. Everyone decides what he wants to do, as long as he doesn’t bother his neighbors. The state needs to give them answers and it is giving them answers.”

Habayit Hayehudi said last week it would support a law banning discrimination against same-sex couples as long as the legislation did not explicitly refer to gay or same-sex couples. Party officials are concerned that explicit recognition of gay rights could prompt the courts to conclude that the state officially recognizes gay marriage.

Like all the coalition parties, Habayit Hayehudi was granted veto power over laws related to religion and the state. Last week there was a dispute over whether granting tax breaks to gay parents is considered such an issue.

A gay pride parade in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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