Spat on Bill Granting Tax Breaks to Gay Parents Puts Off Vote

Habayit Hayehudi, Yesh Atid accuse each other of zig-zagging over tax break for same-sex parents.

The Knesset vote on a bill granting same-sex parents the same tax exemptions as heterosexual parents was postponed Wednesday after the religiously oriented Habayit Hayehudi party reneged on its agreement to support the proposal.

On Tuesday Habayit Hayehudi said it would support the bill, sponsored by a group of parliamentarians headed by MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid), after attempts to topple it with a compromise draft of its own. On Wednesday both parties accused each other of zig-zagging and reneging on previous agreements.

Deputy Finance Minister MK Miki Levy (Yesh Atid) was about to address the bill in the Knesset plenum Wednesday when coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said the vote was being postponed. The announcement raised anger and prompted arguments among MKs, including a stormy one between MKs Kol and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi).

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told MKs Kol and Shaked to leave the plenum when they wouldn’t stop arguing.

Habayit Hayehudi can veto any bills that alter the status quo in matters of religion and state. The right-wing party's MKs said on Wednesday that they refused to support the bill because Yesh Atid retracted on the understandings reached on Tuesday to change the bill’s wording.

On Tuesday Habayit Hayehudi agreed to have the original draft submitted to the Knesset for preliminary reading Wednesday, providing the wording would be changed later, before the next vote, on the basis of future understandings.

“MK Adi Kol agreed to granting same-sex couples tax benefits without recognizing them as such, and on that basis we agreed to remove our veto,” a source in Habayit Hayehudi said. “We saw in the media that Kol reneged on the understandings, so the vote didn’t take place. We have no problem with equal rights and benefits. We have a problem with coercing a change in the status quo.”

Yesh Atid denied changing its stance regarding the bill and accused Habayit Hayehudi with playing political tricks at the expense of the gay community. “Now the cat is out of the bag,” a party source said. “Habayit Hayehudi proved that when it comes to children’s rights, some children are worth less because their parents are gay.”

Yesh Atid said Habayit Hayehudi “keeps changing its mind about the bill according to press reports. It’s spreading false reports about agreements that never were. Yesh Atid insists the bill passes its preliminary reading in its present form and any discussion about coalition agreements can be held afterward.”

At present, half the tax credit points for married couples for a child up to the age of 18 are granted to the wife only. This means that homosexual couples are not eligible for the credit, which in 2013 amounted to up to NIS 2,616 a year per child.

Habayit Hayehudi’s first proposal stipulated that the half point granted until now to mothers be divided equally between the two parents, regardless of their gender.

“Until now the wife received half a credit point in order to encourage women to go out and work,” said a Habayit Hayehudi spokesperson after the proposal was submitted. “If the purpose is not to encourage women to work, but to grant a benefit as a parent, it should be divided equally between the two partners.”

Unlike Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi insisted that the bill not refer explicitly to same-sex couples.

Under the coalition agreements, any coalition party can veto any bill relating to matters of religion and sate. But sources in Yesh Atid argue that civil unions aren’t a religious issue at all, but a civil issue.

Last month Habayit Hayehudi adamantly opposed bills that would grant state recognition to same-sex civil unions. A senior party official said “there’s no chance we’ll allow civil unions for gay couples and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a government-sponsored bill or a private member’s bill.”

Habayit Hayehudi fears that Yesh Atid’s proposal may be viewed by courts as de facto recognition of same-sex couples by the Knesset. Therefore, the party is insisting that the discriminatory tax law be rectified by a special amendment in the tax code, rather than through legislation.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which approved the bill on Sunday, had rejected it last week. Following the rejection, Kok accused the ministers of being “homophobes” in a speech in the Knesset plenum and was supported by Opposition MKs.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) appealed against the committee’s rejection and the bill was approved on Sunday.

Olivier Fitussi