Israel Refuses to Register Both Women in Lesbian Couple as Mothers After Baby's Birth

Defying a court ruling, a population registry office refused to register Adi and Hela Maoz Ofir as mothers after the birth of their daughter

Adi (right) and Hela Maoz Ofir with their newborn baby.
\ Ilan Assayag

The Population and Immigration Authority has instructed its employees not to comply with a court ruling to register both of the women in a couple as mothers once one of them gives birth. As a result, the population registry office in Rehovot refused to register Adi and Hela Maoz Ofir as mothers after the birth of their daughter, although a court order to that effect was already handed down in their case. The clerk at the registry office said she wanted to help, but she had received a direct instruction from the supervisor at the national level to register only Hela as the mother and not Adi.

Adi and Hela Maoz Ofir have been a couple for a decade, are married and have signed an agreement of domestic partnership. They are both registered as mothers of their son, who was born two years ago. At first only the biological mother was registered, but about six weeks later the court ordered that both women be registered as mothers. Last month, before their daughter was born, they asked the Family Court in Petah Tikva to issue a ruling instructing the population registry to register both women as the baby’s mother right after the birth.

Judge Oved Elias granted their request, over the state’s objection. This is the third case in which the court has instructed the head of the Population and Immigration Authority to register two women as mothers on their baby’s birth certificate. The judge called it a matter of principle – the two women wanted to be equal to other couples. In this case, the state had a clear interest in granting their request to convey a message of equality, the judge said.

Adi (right) and Hela Maoz Ofir with their newborn baby.
\ Ilan Assayag

A week ago, Hela gave birth at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot. The clerk who issues the birth certificate at the hospital refused to comply with the court order to name both women on the birth certificate as the baby’s mothers, and would only cite the name of Hela, the biological mother. “I’m working here according to what the Interior Ministry tells me,” the clerk told them. “What they tell me is what I do.” In response to the women’s question of whether the Interior Ministry had instructed her to register only the biological mother, the clerk answered: “I’m not against you. I have no problem. You understand that it’s not me and you. They themselves don’t know how to deal with all this. They have no answers,” the clerk said, referring to her superiors in the population registry.

The clerk suggested they go to the Population and Immigration Authority office in Rehovot, but there, too, the clerk refused to register them both as mothers “This ruling was given before the birth. I don’t say this on my own. I’m sitting here behind this desk and on this chair and I have instructions. There are instructions for the entire Interior Ministry in the country. The moment there’s a ruling given before the birth, this ruling is irrelevant. I have a detailed instruction here. If it doesn’t suit you and you don’t accept it, write a letter, they’ll answer you,” she said.

The clerk read the women the directive prohibiting her from registering them both as mothers and said it had been issued by the official in charge of population registration and passports. “In a situation where we leave the hospital with the child and something happens to Hela, I have no rights to her,” Adi told Haaretz. She added that she left the population registry office in Rehovot very frustrated. “We are a same-sex couple. I don’t know many couples more stable than we are. We already have one child, there’s no reason to issue such a directive except simply to tell judges that what they say is not important. It’s very frustrating mainly because we came with expectations and a certain attitude.” The refusal to take any initiative on the part of the clerks they encountered was also frustrating, Adi said. “It makes us very happy to know that everybody’s for us [but] the outcome is very unhappy, completely ignoring the court order.”

The couple’s attorney, Daniela Yaakobi, said: “The obligation to carry out court orders is first and foremost the state’s obligation, in terms of ‘practicing what you preach.’ The day the state does not carry out a court order is a very sad day and it casts a heavy shadow over the rule of law. I hope that the court will put the state in its place.” Yaakobi said she hoped the court would issue individual orders to comply to the clerks who had refused to do so.

The Population and Immigration Authority responded: “We respect all court orders. With regard to registration on birth certificates, there is a case before the High Court of Justice.” The authority added that registration of birth cannot be carried out in hospitals because the clerks are not registry clerks, “and therefore application must be made to the population registration office after the birth is registered in the population registry.”

The High Court case mentioned in the authority’s statement has to do with registration by declaration only, and not through a court proceeding.