Israeli Ministers Set to Vote on Bill Allowing Same-sex Civil Unions

Before civil partnership bill goes up for vote in Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Justice Minister Livni and her Hatnuah party will introduce new clause where words 'man and a woman' are substituted by the more general term 'couple.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is planning to request the government's endorsement of a groundbreaking bill that would allow same-sex civil partnership in Israel. Sources close to Livni believe the bill will have a majority at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which is also headed by Livni.

The bill, sponsored by MK Meir Sheetrit from Livni's Hatnuah party was submitted to the Knesset without mention of same-sex couples, referring only to straight couples who, according to Jewish religious law, cannot be wed.

Livni and Sheetrit intend to introduce on Sunday a new formulation of one of the bill's clauses that would, for the first time, allow in effect same-sex marriages in Israel. The new clause will substitute the words "man and a woman" by the more general term "couple," and define the outlines of an agreement that would allow them to live as couples and as a family with a common household without being married according to current, religiously dominated legislation.

Livni recently requested a legal opinion on the issue from ministry officials who concluded there is no legal obstacle to the move that would regulate same sex civil partnerships. Hatnuah officials believe that there are good chances of the bill being backed by the coalition since Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu and several Likud representatives in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation support such a move.

Habayit Hayehudi representatives are expected to oppose the bill, but it is yet unclear if they will only express opposition, or actually veto the bill, as is their right according to the religion and state clauses in the coalition agreement.

Sheetrit, a former interior minister, has been trying for some time to allow civil partnership agreements in Israel, for couples who are barred from marriage by the rabbinate for religious reasons. The introductory notes to the legislation argue that "the proposed bill's objective is to alter the legal situation and allow couples who cannot marry in Israel, to establish a family and be entitled to rights similar to married couples, without damaging current legislation as to marriage and divorce in Israel."

The bill would establish a framework with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, effectively allowing Israelis seeking to start a family to circumvent the religious establishment. The bill explicitly states that civil partnership would be regarded as marriage for all practical purposes. It details all the elements included in the partnership, which would be the secular alternative to religious marriage, from the appointment of civil partnership registration clerks to the procedure required to end such a partnership by the clerks or a court.

Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni.Credit: Nir Kafri

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