Is Israel Really Taking Steps Toward Equality for Queer Parents?

שחר קליידר לוי
Shahar Klaider-Levy
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A Tel Aviv protest against the government's opposition to the adoption of children by LGBT couples, 2017.
שחר קליידר לוי
Shahar Klaider-Levy

"Children are happiness," according to the well-known Israeli song. And also according to the aunts, grandmothers and even total strangers who feel comfortable asking couples, “So, what about having kids?” That’s the way it is in Israel; everyone is one big family.

But when it comes to the children of LGBTQ couples, the state lags behind. Many women who have female partners are forced to navigate a thicket of legal obstacles to obtain recognition of the rights of the non-biological mother vis-a-vis the child she dreamed of with her partner (as well as of her obligations regarding the child).

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A lot has been said about the absurdity of the existing situation. A male stranger can declare himself the father of a child of a woman right in the hospital, but her partner cannot make a similar declaration.

The state has also rejected compromises proposed by the courts which, among other things, sought to enable women who are living as a couple to officially register their offspring through a certain bureaucratic procedure – without a court order.

Last week, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli approved a draft amendment to the adoption law that would enable same-sex couples to adopt children. “We’re taking another step toward equality,” Nissenkorn said. But is that really true?

Figures published in 2018 show that the number of adoptions in Israel has fallen, mainly because of changing attitudes toward single parenthood. In 2017, 72 Israeli children were adopted by local couples, down from 122 in 2013.

Not enough children are put up for adoption in Israel to satisfy the demand, and that’s a good thing. We wouldn’t want to be like those countries where the rate of children available for adoption is high.

But if the legislation approved by the ministers is enacted, then the increasingly small pool of children up for adoption will be sought by an even greater number of couples, so the waiting list will merely grow longer. While every step toward equality is welcome, there are simpler steps that would make parenthood easier for lesbian couples while even saving the state money.

My partner and I plan to bring a child into the world. Unlike healthy heterosexual couples, who simply have to keep “trying” until the woman falls pregnant, we have to open a file at a sperm bank. The bank refuses to open the file until we’ve performed a great many medical tests, some of them quite invasive. Only after these tests are conducted will the donor be chosen and the sperm be made available. Only then can the attempts at in-vitro fertilization begin.

One would expect that after such a process, we wouldn’t then be subject to arbitrary demands for additional tests as “proof of the couple's relationship and the shared intent to bring a child into the world and raise him/her together.”

The existing situation is also absurd from an economic standpoint. Every year, the taxpayer involved spends hundreds of thousands of shekels on legal proceedings that, in 99 percent of cases, end with a ruling against the state, either before a parental order is granted or afterward, because the state’s appeals are rejected. Thus a lot of money could be saved by a simple ministerial signature.

Political circumstances may make it hard to change the adoption law, but the justice minister is authorized to set policy under which the state won’t dispatch lawyers on its behalf to oppose parental orders. And the social affairs minister could cancel the humiliating evaluations by a social worker that normative women are forced to undergo if they apply to register as parents even one day after the deadline.

Granted, the ministers recently extended that deadline from 90 to 180 days after the birth. But aside from the fact that this is still discriminatory (heterosexual couples have a year) – this is not a solution.

In another year, I hope, I’ll be hugging our firstborn son or daughter. I and my partner decided together that she’s the one who will give birth, at least to the first child.

Consequently, even before we’ve opened the file at the sperm bank, I know I’ll need to fight the state to obtain recognition as my child’s mother. All I can do is to ask Mnisters Nissenkorn and Shmuli: What will you do today to defend me tomorrow?

Shahar Klaider-Levy is an activist for LGBTQ rights.

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