Israel's Same-sex Civil Union Bill Bogs Down

Ministers to revisit the wording of the bill, which would provide solutions for partners forbidden to wed under religious law.

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A vote scheduled for today on civil unions in Israel has been put off indefinitely, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation had been slated to vote on a bill that would have allowed civil partnership in Israel, including by same-sex couples.

The delay was at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the government, in order to reach agreement about the bill's phrasing.

The bill is designed to bring a solution for hundreds of thousands of people who currently cannot marry in Israel, including same-sex couples and those forbidden from wedding under religious law.

Livni is to spearhead the process of hashing out the agreement on the wording.

"The plight of hundreds of thousands of citizens that cannot wed in Israel and enjoy the privileges that married couples enjoy, is crying out for a solution and we are determined to provide one for them," she said. "This government has the opportunity and the majority [in the Knesset] to bring about the long-awaited change."

Livni and fellow Hatnuah MK Meir Sheetrit, who sponsored the bill, had planned to amend a clause within the bill to effectively allow same-sex marriages in Israel for the first time.

The clause would have substituted the words "man and a woman" with the more general term "couple," and define the outlines of an agreement that would allow them to live together as a family with a common household, without being married according to current, religiously dominated legislation.

Livni recently requested a legal opinion on the issue from ministry officials who concluded there was no legal obstacle to the move that would regulate same sex civil partnerships. Hatnuah officials believe that there are good chances of the bill being backed by the coalition since Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu and several Likud representatives in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation support such a move.

Habayit Hayehudi representatives are expected to oppose the bill, but it is yet unclear if they will only express opposition, or actually veto the bill, as is their right according to the religion and state clauses in the coalition agreement.

Sheetrit, a former interior minister, has been trying for some time to allow civil partnership agreements in Israel, for couples who are barred from marriage by the rabbinate for religious reasons. The introductory notes to the legislation argue that "the proposed bill's objective is to alter the legal situation and allow couples who cannot marry in Israel, to establish a family and be entitled to rights similar to married couples, without damaging current legislation as to marriage and divorce in Israel."

The bill would establish a framework with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, effectively allowing Israelis seeking to start a family to circumvent the religious establishment. The bill explicitly states that civil partnership would be regarded as marriage for all practical purposes. It details all the elements included in the partnership, which would be the secular alternative to religious marriage, from the appointment of civil partnership registration clerks to the procedure required to end such a partnership by the clerks or a court.

Illustration: Two men, both wearing signs that read "he's the groom"; they couldn't presently formalize their relationship under Israeli law.Credit: Reuters
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah).Credit: AP

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