Pathway to Israeli Citizenship to Be Same for Gay and Heterosexual Couples

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit made the announcement in response to a court petition by the Gay Father's Association, which welcomed the new policy.

Sharon Shpurer
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Illustration: A gay couple kissing.Credit: Reuters
Sharon Shpurer

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced on Thursday that the acquisition of Israeli citizenship by a non-Israeli married to an Israeli in a gay marriage will be the same as those currently prevailing in the case of heterosexual couples.

The announcement came in response to a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by the Gay Fathers Association.

The petition challenged a provision in Israeli citizenship law that made reference to a “man and wife” and therefore did not apply to married gay couples. The acquisition of Israeli citizenship by a non-Israeli spouse in a heterosexual marriage can take up to four years, but the legal provision relating to gay couples has required waits of up to seven years until now. In addition, the non-Israeli spouse generally received permanent residency but not citizenship.

Up to now, the law required the renunciation of foreign citizenship in cases in which citizenship was awarded. Earlier this week, the state informed the court that it would be dropping the renunciation of foreign citizenship requirement.

In its announcement, the state also undertook to bring the waiting time for gay couples into line with heterosexual couples and said that the non-Israeli spouse in a gay marriage would now also be given citizenship rather than just permanent residency.

Although there is no provision in Israeli law recognizing gay marriages performed in Israel, gay marriages performed abroad are recognized in Israel for some purposes. The announcement made clear however, that the change in policy does not represent general recognition in Israel of gay marriage.

Instead of civil marriage in Israel, each religious community is governed by its own religious laws, in a throwback to the period of Ottoman Turkish rule. Jewish marriage falls under the authority of the Orthodox rabbinate which operates in accordance with halakha, traditional Jewish law, which does not provide for gay marriage.

Speaking to Haaretz following the new change in citizenship policy, Iris Sheinfeld, a lawyer representing the Gay Fathers Association, expressed satisfaction at the change, which she said followed prior unsuccessful efforts to enlist the support of the Interior Ministry and Mendelblit’s predecessor as attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein.

“For married same-sex couples, this is an extraordinary achievement,” she said. She added that the initial stage in which the non-Israeli spouse is admitted to the country on a tourist visa but with a right to work would be shortened to half-a-year instead of four years. “It was without a doubt unbearable to live here with tourist status, meaning that you were maintaining a work and family life without rights,” Sheinfeld said.

“We still have work to do, but from a fundamental and practical standpoint, we are satisfied. In addition, this has a lot of influence on [parenting] surrogacy abroad,” she added, explaining that the foreign spouse in a gay marriage can now more easily bring children born to a surrogate mother abroad into Israel.

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