Only Three Same-sex Couples Allowed to Adopt in Israel Since It Became Legal in 2008

Even though the law now allows gay families to adopt, they still have a lower priority.

The Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem in 2016.
Michal Fattal

Only three same-sex families, two male couples and one female couple, have managed to adopt children in Israel since 2008, when such couples were legally allowed to adopt for the first time.

A report from the Social Affairs Ministry, which Haaretz has obtained, shows that in comparison, 1,700 heterosexual couples have adopted children over that same period. Some 550 requests for adoption or surrogacy from same-sex couples were filed from 2008 through 2016.

The child adoption law enacted over 30 years ago states that "only a man and wife together" are allowed to legally adopt today in Israel. In 2008, then Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, in a precedent-setting step, issued a legal opinion allowing same-sex couples to adopt children as "individual adoptive parents." In other words, gay couples could adopt too, but they were given lower priority than heterosexual families. This was applied to couples in common-law marriages as well.

No children were adopted by same-sex couples in the 2008 to 2012 period, and the three same-sex couple adoptions came in 2012 through 2016.

The report now shows that In practice, even though the legal situation has changed, it is still almost impossible for gay couples to adopt a child in Israel.

The Social Affairs Ministry has provided the data to the High Court of Justice in response to two petitions filed against the adoption authorities by the Gay Dads Association, which is demanding equality in adoption procedures, as well as for surrogacy. 

"The data reveal what gays in Israel feel, the government tells us in practice don't have children," said Udi Ledergor, chairman of the Gay Dads Association. "Even though there is a possibility in the law to adopt, the situation is that it is impossible for LGBT [couples] to adopt. Hundreds of couples would be happy to adopt children but the word for a long time is that it is an impossible process."

Ledergor said we have now received the proof of what LGBT couples have known for a long time. "We are living in 2017 and the courts must make brave decisions," he added.  

Even after Mazuz’s decision, the adoption process is still not equitable. Heterosexual couples are still given priority in adoption by the Social Affairs Ministry’s child welfare services, and often gay couples are only able to adopt children with problems who have been turned down by heterosexual couples first, such as those with health problems, older children, and those from distressed families.

The Social Affairs Ministry confirmed the figures. The Ministry said that Mazuz provided a legal interpretation allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Since then, the data show that "very few requests by same-sex couples to adopt children, who are special needs children, according to this interpretation."

In July, Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will have present the High Court of Justice their position on whether to grant single-sex couples equal rights in adoption, the same as for married heterosexual couples. They were originally supposed to present this position by February, but two months ago the High court granted them a final extension until July. 

The case involves a petition filed by the Israeli Gay Fathers Association, along with the Israel Religious Action Center, against the Social Affairs Ministry and attorney general, asking the court to order an end to the present policy that discriminates against single-sex families in adoption.

The reason so few same-sex couples have succeeded in adopting is the preference given to heterosexual couples. "Individual" adoptions are allowed only in two cases: If one member of the couple is the partner of one of the child's biological parents, or if the partner has previously adopted the child; and in cases where the biological parents are dead and the adoptive parent is an unmarried relative of the child. This is why even after Mazuz eased the restrictions the law still gives preference to heterosexual couples over "individual" adoptions.

The policy of the child welfare services defines two groups of children who may be adopted: Infants up to two years old who are adopted by couples with no children, or a single adopted child; and children over two. The older group also includes younger children who have health problems, those with siblings, children whose biological parents suffer from mental illness, and minors with other difficulties.

According to this policy, single-sex couples can only adopt children for whom no appropriate heterosexual couple has been found, and often these are children who are older or come from at-risk families.

“Married heterosexual couples are the only ones who can adopt healthy babies, while common-law couples or single-sex couples can only adopt children with special needs,” stated the Gay Dads Association in its petition to the High Court. They called this policy discriminatory, and said “it mortally harms their right to family life.”

In the hearing in September 2016, the government asked to postpone the hearings on the case until a committee, headed by retired judge Yehoshua Gross, examining changes to the law on adoption submitted its report – and promised to present its new policy in February after studying the committee’s recommendations.

The Gross committee worked on the matter for 10 years, but as reported in Haaretz, it did not decide whether to allow same-sex couples to adopt in Israel, and left the issue for the relevant ministers to decide.