Controversial Civil Union Bill Up for Discussion

A controversial bill that would, for the first time, permit a form of civil marriage in Israel is due to be discussed by the Knesset Constitution Committee today.

But the bill, prepared by the Justice Ministry pursuant to Likud's coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, would permit so-called "couplehood unions" only for people not listed as members of any religion - some 300,000 Israeli adults. Such people currently have no legal way to marry in Israel, because Israeli law recognizes only religious marriages.

The bill would enable two such people to be recognized as a couple by signing a contract that would be notarized by a "couplehood registrar" - a new office that the bill would establish. The couple when then have the same legal rights and obligations as a married couple, aside from those unique to each religion's marriage practices. For instance, the law against bigamy would apply to such couples, and any disputes between them would be dealt with by the family courts.

But several human rights organizations object vehemently to the bill, saying it still treats people without a religion as second-class citizens, since they will not be defined as married.

Moreover, they argue, the bill provides a solution to relatively few people who are currently unable to marry in Israel. An interfaith couple, for instance, or one in which only one partner had no religion, would still not be allowed to marry under the law.

According to the rights organizations, only about 170 couples a year, 3.8 percent of all those currently unable to marry, would be helped by this law. They are therefore demanding that the government legalize full civil marriage - for everyone.