Knesset Approves Tax Breaks for Same-sex Parents

Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi both claim victory after reaching compromise on preliminary bill.

The Knesset plenum approved in a 44-20 vote on Wednesday a preliminary bill offering tax breaks for same-sex parents.

A compromise between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi parties paved the way for the bill's passage. The written deal between the two coalition partners has been kept under wraps but it is expected the bill will be shelved and that equal tax credits will be implemented through Finance Ministry regulations rather than legislation.

Storming out of the building, members of left-wing opposition party Meretz refused to participate in the vote and demanded to make public the Yesh Atid-Habayit Hayehudi agreement. They were joined in criticizing the secret dealings by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor). He voted against the bill in order to be allowed address the plenum and speak out against the lack of transparency.

Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett was the only representative of Habayit Hayehudi present to vote in favor of the law. MK Ayelet Shaked notified the Knesset that she was unable to reach the plenum in time for the vote and asked that her name be added to the bill’s supporters.

The faction chairs of the two parties, Ofer Shelah for Yesh Atid and Ayelet Shaked for Habayit Hayehudi, led the attempts to reach a compromise in recent weeks. On Tuesday, they reached a final agreement at the forum of faction chairmen of the coalition parties. In addition, the forum resolved to convene for regular weekly sessions in order to reach agreements on disputed bills before they are submitted for Knesset votes.

The compromise should allow both parties to demonstrate an achievement.

Yesh Atid can say gay parents have been included the tax law, and in addition claim a moral triumph with the passing of the bill on Wednesday that for the first time recognizes same-sex couples, even if this step does not result in legislation in the end.

A senior party member said Tuesday that “Habayit Hayehudi cannot threaten to veto a law after the government has decided to support it. We broke that principle through this compromise. The bill will be voted on exactly the way the government approved it, and Habayit Hayehudi won’t prevent that."

In parallel, Habayit Hayehudi should be able to boast of derailing legislation that recognizes same-sex couples.

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified last week that he supports the law in the version introduced by MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid), which is the one passed Wednesday.

With sources from the two sides giving contradictory information, and no document publically available, the exact nature of the agreement between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi remains unclear.

Habayit Hayehudi said the regulations Finance Minister Yair Lapid would set will be subject to approval by the Finance Committee, which is headed by their representative, MK Nissan Slomiansky. Yesh Atid, by contrast, said that no such agreement had been reached and that the authority to formulate the regulations would be entirely in the hands of party chairman Yair Lapid. The regulations are expected to include the phrase “partners of the same sex.”

Yesh Atid, however, was hesitated to play up the importance of the deal.

“This bill wasn’t supposed to become the flagship of gay-couple recognition, but to ease the distress of a few dozen couples discriminated against by the state." A source in Yesh Atid said Tuesday. "We conduct major battles on major issues. Yesh Atid is advancing the civil union law that would recognize gay couples for the first time, and we’ll be bringing that through the front gate, not the back door."

Kol’s bill was approved three weeks ago by the ministerial Committee for Legislation, but since then was not brought to the Knesset for a vote due to the conflict between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. Members of Habayit Hayehudi, particularly MK Shaked, were subjected in recent weeks to pressure and public criticism, especially on Facebook, after trying to thwart the law and threatening to veto it. Lapid harshly attacked the intention to veto the law and clarified that it provides social assistance to children and is not concerned with issues of religion and state.

“I’ll take this to the government,” Lapid told Army Radio. “I’ll ask them to explain what it has to do with religion and state, because if this is religion and state then we can veto any issue in the world because of religion and state. I don’t see how someone can raise their hand and say, ‘I support children getting punished because their parents are gay.'"

Under the current law, in the case of married couples, each child under the age of 18 garners only the woman one tax credit point.This means that two men raising children together are not eligible for the tax break. The value of a full credit point in 2013 was 2,616 shekels over the year. 

Olivier Fitoussi