Israeli Ministers Push an End to Restrictions on Same-sex Couples' Right to Adopt

The justice and social services ministries say they will present within a month legislation revoking existing restrictions, years after promising to do so

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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People at a rally for LGBTQ rights in Tel Aviv, June 2020.
People at a rally for LGBTQ rights in Tel Aviv, June 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The justice and social services ministries announced on Tuesday that they will present within the next month legislation to end discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption rights.

Some three years ago, the government had promised the High Court of Justice to amend the law by mid-2018.

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The Knesset's State Control Committee, chaired by Yesh Atid lawmaker Ofer Shelah, will also require the state comptroller to investigate discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community seeking to adopt a child.

Currently, same-sex couples are allowed to adopt only special needs children or those over the age of 2.

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli, who is openly gay, promised in the committee session to amend the adpotion law within weeks.

The law regulating the adoption of children was passed over 30 years ago and has hardly been changed since. It gives priority to married heterosexual couples, and allows the court to issue an adoption order for an unmarried person only in two exceptional cases: if their partner is the child’s biological parent or adopted the child previously; and if the biological parents have died and the adopter is an unmarried relative. In the new draft, the clause giving priority to “a man and a woman together” over “a single adopter” will be erased.

"The current law is discriminatory and offensive and must change," Shmuli told Haaretz. "We have been working on it vigorously in the two ministries in recent weeks. Most of the work has already been done … I suppose there will be political objections to advancing the bill, but we are optimistic. "

In July of 2017, Haaretz revealed that the government categorizes same-sex couples as being a type of family that is likely to “place an additional burden on the child,” and therefore decided not to allow them to adopt. Following a public uproar, in September of that year the Social Services Ministry changed its position and notified the High Court that it would amend the law. The High Court subsequently rejected a petition filed against the ministry. “The government has removed the offensive opinion,” concluded Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.

Since then, the justice and social services ministries have prepared a draft bill designed to rectify the issue, but the political leadership interfered. Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked refrained from approving the legal memorandum, claiming that it was problematic and required changes. The cabinet failed to amend the law as promised, and in August of 2019, then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared that he would advance the legislation and revoke the clause that says that only “a man and his wife” can begin adoption proceedings – but the law was not advanced.

Attorney Metzada Matzlawi, from the Justice Ministry Counseling and Legislation Department, said Tuesday at the committee session: “Pursuant to the court decision three years ago, we did thorough work to change the legal memorandum and to reform the entire adoption law and replace it with a new one. We wrote a version of a memorandum that was disseminated by Ohana, but the election interrupted the process. At this point, all the professional discussions have been concluded, all that’s left is the technical wording, and in the coming weeks it will be sent to the ministers’ offices. It’s our top priority to pass the law.”

Rakefet Atzmon, director of child services in the Social Services Ministry, meanwhile said: “As far as we’re concerned, the basis is in the professional work of determining the parents’ ability to give the child what’s necessary … We want to change the law, and are already working on it."

Hila Pe’er, chairwoman of the Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, said during the discussion: “We welcome the news about the law, but won’t accept excuses about ‘coalition discipline.’ It’s the responsibility of the cabinet, and the Justice and Social Services Ministries in particular, to leave no stone unturned in order to end the discrimination. We will soon know whether after years of foot-dragging, LGBT couples will be able to adopt children just like everyone else.”

The committee's chairman, Shelah, said that “[d]iscrimination against the LGBT community in child adoption is a benighted law that must be revoked. The cabinet promised over two years ago and has done nothing.”

Meanwhile, lawmaker and LGBTQ rights advocate Idan Roll said: "Family is a supreme value in Israeli society, but the Netanyahu government prefers that a child grow up without a family, the main thing is not to allow gay couples to adopt him.”

Or Keshet, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, said the amendment "must be passed in primary legislation. We can’t wait for [Arye] Dery, [Yaakov] Litzman and [Bezalel] Smotrich to remove their veto. If we waited for them on every issue, we would be in Putin’s Russia.”

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