Same-sex Couples Eligible for Municipal Discounts in Tel Aviv

Same-sex couples will now be eligible for the same benefits as married couples, according to new Tel Aviv municipality regulations.

The decision, which was called by sources at city hall Wednesday "the beginning of a civic revolution," awards the same discounts at municipal cultural, sports, and other facilities to same sex marriages as are currently available to ordinary marriages.

In order to be eligible for the discounts, a couple must present an affidavit from a lawyer in which they declare that they share a common domicile. They may also declare that they are raising a child together.

Sources in the gay community say that the monetary savings, while significant, pale in comparison to the legal-historical significance of the new directives because it is the first time that a public body has recognized the same-sex family unit.

The sources say that many businesses in Tel Aviv already grant discounts to same-sex couples based on their verbal declaration, but the fact that the declaration is now in writing, with the official city hall stamp of approval, may pave the road to other, more important benefits.

Lawyer Ira Hadar, an expert in homosexual and lesbian rights who worked for the passage of the new regulations, is now waging a legal battle over the rights of a lesbian couple to adopt each others' biological children.

"One of the claims of the state, which opposes the adoption, is that the issues in this case are a matter of social debate," says Hadar. "Right after the city decided on the new regulations, I attached the decision to our case as another indication that official institutions are granting rights to same-sex couples.

Adir Steiner, in charge of community affairs for the city, said Wednesday, "eleven years ago I sat by the bedside of my parter, Doron Meisel, at Ichilov Hospital. The moment he lost consciousness, I was treated like I was invisible. It was a terrible feeling, and if it would happen today, I would complain to hospital administration and prove, through my municipal papers, that I am a very close relative. That is only one example of the statutory importance of the recognition by the local authority of a relationship like this."

But the precedent-setting step taken by the city may place single mothers in a difficult situation. Until now, in the case of a lesbian couple raising a child, the mother has had the benefits of a single mother. But what will happen when the couple signs an affidavit declaring that their relationship is equal to that of a married couple?

"There is no doubt that the family unit will have to chose between single parenthood or recognition as part of a couple" says Tel Aviv city council member Michal Eden.

"All the lesbians I asked would prefer to be recognized by the state as part of a couple and not as single parents. But in the case of municipal benefits, it is clear that at this point the couple would prefer the rights of a single parent."

Sources at city hall said that the city will probably not cross-check people receiving single-parent benefits with those who have signed the shared domicile declaration, and so there will be no problem in the foreseeable future.

The new municipal regulations apply not only to gay couples, but to all couples who declare a shared domicile, and those who cannot be married under Orthodox law.