Ministers Reject Two Bills Seeking to Allow Civil Marriage

Opposition trying to put issue back on the agenda following U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Illustration: Two men, both wearing signs that read "he's the groom"; they couldn't presently formalize their relationship under Israeli law.Credit: Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Two bills on civil marriage in Israel failed to move through the Knesset Sunday, although one managed to technically stay alive.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation tabled Yesh Atid’s proposal for civil unions, which the party had failed to advance during the previous Knesset when it was part of the government coalition. At the same time, the committee rejected outright Meretz’s version of a civil marriage. 

“In the situation in which two thirds of the Israeli public support granting the possibility of civil marriages, the real question that we must ask ourselves is why doesn’t it happen; why is Israel in the same group with countries such as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or Syria, which recognize only the religious-conservative monopoly over marriage?” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said in advance of the committee meeting.

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who is sponsoring the civil union bill in the present Knesset, said: “The proposed law is not intended to harm Jewish tradition or the authority of the Rabbinate, but wants to offer an alternative for couples who are prevented from marriage by the Rabbinate, or for couples who are not interested in it.”

Lavie added: “The law will allow everyone the freedom of choice between the civil track and the religious track, and allow full equal rights between couples who choose a civil union and those couples who choose the religious channel, also in terms of law and justice. In the present situation, the State of Israel is completely ignoring the distress of thousands and men and women. Do we really want to continue to encourage them to get married abroad? ... It is simply an inappropriate situation which harms the values of equality.”

The Israel Democracy Institute called on the ministerial committee at the end of last week to support Lavie’s bill: “This proposal is similar to the proposal prepared in the past by the institute, which asks to preserve the balance between the Jewishness of the state and upholding the equal rights for every citizen [man and woman] to live in an established union.”

Allowing civil unions would enable over 300,000 people in Israel who are unable to be married now by the Rabbinate – such as same-sex couples and others who are not interested in marriage under religious auspices and today are forced to go overseas to conduct the process there – to feel part of Israeli society, said the Israel Democracy Institute. It is the best compromise available at the moment.

“We must recognize the problem and not hide our heads in the sand,” said a spokesperson for the institute.