Israel Expands Law of Return to Apply to non-Jewish Same-sex Spouses

The interior minister bases his decision on 1970 legislation that seeks to boost both immigration and equal status under the law.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Joshua Goldberg, left, and Bayardo Alvarez, both U.S. citizens. Alvarez successfully applied for the Law of Return even though he is not Jewish.
Joshua Goldberg, left, and Bayardo Alvarez, both U.S. citizens. Alvarez successfully applied for the Law of Return even though he is not Jewish. Credit: Tali Mayer
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Law of Return, which gives Diaspora Jews and non-Jewish family members the right to immigrate to Israel, also applies to legally married same-sex spouses, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday.

The rights of non-Jewish spouses, children and grandchildren are enshrined in a 1970 amendment to the Law of Return. The legislation also applies to the children’s and grandchildren’s non-Jewish spouses — except for Jews who have voluntarily converted to another religion.

The law never explicitly excluded non-Jewish spouses legally married in a same-sex union, but the state never applied the law in this respect. In a statement, Sa’ar said he made his decision at the request of the Jewish Agency as well as the couples themselves.

“The Law of Return deals with the ingathering of all members of the Jewish people,” Sa’ar wrote to his ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, noting the 1970 amendment’s efforts to boost both immigration and equal status under the law.

“In this regard, I see no reason to distinguish between Jews married in heterosexual marriages and Jews legally married abroad to a same-sex spouse. Both are Jews in terms of the Law of Return.”

A key case under the old regime played out three years ago. American immigrant Joshua Goldberg received citizenship while his non-Jewish spouse Bayardo Alvarez did not.

After pressuring the Population and Immigration Authority, Alvarez received permanent-resident status, but absent full immigrant status he was denied the benefits immigrants receive such as health coverage. He could not open a joint bank account with Goldberg and the bank refused Alvarez a credit card.

He was then granted citizenship, but the Interior Ministry said the decision should not be considered a blanket ruling for all same-sex couples.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar at a press conference, August 21, 2013.Credit: Moti Milrod

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