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Israel's Civil Union Bill Must Apply to Everybody, Not Just Same-sex Couples

An egalitarian arrangement would prevent gay marriages from being 'second-class,' and raise the status of common-law spouses.

Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross
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Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross

There are three bills on Knesset members' desks that aim to extend the eligibility for civil unions beyond couples who claim to have no religion. Two of them are egalitarian proposals, giving the civil union option to any interested couple: the civil union bill initiated by Yesh Atid, and the proposal the Justice Ministry issued Sunday called the “Joint Living Law.” A third proposal would allow civil unions only for gays, while other voices within the coalition and outside it would specifically exclude same-sex couples from eligibility for civil unions. These last two approaches are unacceptable.

Just as one must oppose civil unions that would be closed to same-sex couples, one must object to a civil union that’s specific to same-sex couples, as was recently proposed by MK Stav Shaffir (Labor). This proposal is problematic both because it offers no solution for heterosexuals who can’t or don’t want to marry through the rabbinate, and because it isolates same-sex couples in a status unique to them that is liable to lead their unions to become “second-class marriages” that won’t offer equal rights.

In the absence of civil marriage, two alternatives have developed for couples who can’t or don’t want to marry through the rabbinate. The first is simply living together in a common law arrangement and the second is marrying abroad. Over the years, same-sex couples have managed to adopt these models, with their rights equalized to those of common-law couples. Creating a separate status for same-sex couples would constitute a type of “divide and conquer” approach that would undermine the united struggle of all couples seeking an alternative to rabbinate-sanctioned marriage - a unity that has been the foundation of the successes that have been achieved to date.

An egalitarian, open civil union arrangement for all would make it much easier for couples who would no longer have to prove repeatedly that they are common-law spouses. It would assure equality in those contexts in which there are still gaps between the rights of common-law couples and those of married couples, such as access to adoption and surrogacy.

The proposal being made by the Justice Ministry contains a number of guidelines that are discriminatory and must be changed. For example, it states that the partners would not be able to have any naturalization requirements eased on the basis of their civil union. This is ostensibly to prevent the exploitation of immigration laws, but this explanation is not convincing because couples can simply marry if they seek relief from the naturalization laws. Moreover, the Interior Ministry already recognizes common-law couples, except for same-sex couples, for the purpose of adjusting one’s personal status in Israel, and the wording of this bill could be interpreted to undermine this.

The Justice Ministry also proposes that the rules regarding adoption and surrogacy apply to couples only 18 months after they have had their civil union registered. While one must welcome the willingness to apply these rules to couples who are registered civilly, there’s no justification for the discriminatory demand for a waiting period that does not apply to married couples.

A gay wedding (illustrative).Credit: Dreamstime

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