The Interior Ministry is refusing citizenship and new immigrant status to a homosexual married to a Jewish new immigrant, despite the law's stipulation that the child, grandchild and partner of a Jew are entitled to Jewish immigrant rights.
Joshua Goldberg and Bayardo Alvarez, both American citizens, immigrated to Israel two weeks ago. Goldberg, who is Jewish, received an Israeli identity card and immigrant certificate on arrival, under the Law of Return. Alvarez, despite exerting much pressure on the ministry, was granted only temporary residence.
The Law of Return stipulates: "A Jew's rights and an immigrant's rights ... are also imparted to the child, grandchild and partner of a Jew, except in the case of a Jew who willingly converted to another religion."
Attorney Nicky Maor, director of the Legal Aid Center for Olim, says if the couple were a man and woman, there is no doubt they would both have received Israeli citizenship.
"The only reason the Interior Ministry doesn't know how to handle it is that they're gay," Maor said. "The Law of Return says 'partner,' not husband and wife. There is no definition preventing recognition of same-sex partners."
Goldberg and Alvarez, from Baltimore, Maryland, have been living together for 11 years. At the end of 2007, they were married in Canada, where same-sex marriages have been legalized, even for non-Canadians. They started immigration procedures about six months ago, with the help of the Israel Religious Action Committee.
In 2006, the High Court of Justice instructed the Interior Ministry to register same-sex marriages of couples who were married outside Israel in the Population Registry. In the wake of this ruling, the Interior Ministry registered Goldberg and Alvarez as married when they came to Israel. But despite the implications, the ministry refused to give Alvarez citizenship and an immigrant's certificate.
"We demanded an immigrant's status for Alvarez before Passover," says Maor. "Since then they've promised they are discussing it on all levels, and say they must discuss it with the State Prosecution department and formulate a stand."
The ministry knows that if it refuses, the issue will be brought to the High Court of Justice. "They want the prosecution's backing. They say this is holding things up," Maor says.
Goldberg, 40, a publicist and PR agent, and Alvarez, 33, a flower arranger for weddings and events, both work as waiters in an Eilat hotel and are looking for work and housing in the central region.
Alvarez was granted temporary residence after the couple had been summoned six times to the Interior Ministry branch in Eilat, where they say they were treated in a hostile, humiliating way by the clerk. Goldberg claims it was clear they were looking for excuses not to grant him residence.
"Now they're refusing to make a decision one way or another about his [Alvarez'] immigrant status," Goldberg says. "The religious interior minister doesn't want to be accountable for giving immigrant status to a gay half-Jewish couple. It is much more convenient to say 'I didn't do it, the ultra-liberal High Court forced it on me.'"
"I wish they'd refuse our request or approve it," he adds, frustratedly. "It will end in the same way. If we petition against them, they will lose and grant us the temporary residence."
It's not all bad news, though. Goldberg says he's quite pleased with the Israelis he's met so far. "The Israelis we've met until now have been so sympathetic, I'm all the more amazed by how malicious the Interior Ministry can be," he says.
Attorney Dan Yakir, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, believes the High Court will grant Alvarez citizenship if asked to rule on the issue.
"It's a question the courts haven't dealt with yet," he says, "whether 'partner' in the Law of Return also applies to a same-sex partner. In view of the court rulings that have equalized the rights of same-sex couples and in view of the constitutional right for equality, it is obvious that the Law of Return must be interpreted as applying to same-sex couples, and that means an immigrant's partner must be given citizenship."