Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said Wednesday he would advance a bill permitting same-sex couples to have children through a surrogate, months after the High Court of Justice ruled against a law that expanded surrogacy to single women but not to gay and lesbian couples.
Nissenkorn said the bill would be advanced with the agreement of the governing coalition, and introduced by the end of 2020.
Nissenkorn wrote in his statement that “equality is a pillar of democracy, and the right to parenthood must be equal and must not discriminate according to religion, race, gender or sexual orientations. In order to end discrimination, we must advance an amendment to the surrogacy law in a professional and responsible manner, and not by a private member’s bill.”
The announcement set the stage for a potential confrontation between Nissenkorn’s Kahol Lavan party and the coalition's ultra-Orthodox parties. Officially, United Torah Judaism and Shas have not reacted to the legislative initiative, but a lawmaker for one of those parties told Haaretz: “There is no scenario in which the Haredi parties will permit the advancement of a government measure for surrogacy for the LGBT community.”
The lawmaker added: “We will not express our opposition to this step right now, but rather when Nissenkorn raises the proposal he has initiated before the cabinet and the Knesset.”
Nissenkorn’s declaration comes during a week in which LGBTQ Pride events were held in various cities around the country in the form of rallies, with the coronavirus pandemic having caused the cancellation of the usual parades.
Having no access to surrogates within the country, same-sex couples seeking to hire one must go through the process abroad.
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On Wednesday, the Knesset rejected in a preliminary vote a similar bill introduced by lawmakers Yair Lapid and Idan Roll of Yesh Atid, with forty-seven lawmakers opposing it and 29 voting in favor. Cabinet ministers Amir Ohana of Likud and Itzik Shmuli of the Labor Party, both gay men, along with Kahol Lavan's Eitan Ginzburg voted in favor of granting surrogacy to same-sex couples; the rest of the coalition voted against it.
Sources involved in the process said Kahol Lavan’s effort to advance legislation in the cabinet on LGBTQ issues may succeed, and that there are serious discussions underway behind the scenes, allowing Nissenkorn to publish his statement. Opposition sources meanwhile said the announcement was intended to minimize the embarrassment of Kahol Lavan, as well as Ohana and Shmuli, because they must vote against opposition initiatives.
Last week the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which decides whether the coalition will back or oppose a bill, said it was postponing for two months a Meretz bill to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, with the rationale being that time was needed to reach a consensus within the coalition. The committee set a two month deadline for completing talks to advance the legislation.
In February, the High Court of Justice ruled unanimously that same-sex couples and single men must be permitted to have children via surrogacy, giving the government a year to amend the relevant legislation, after a petition by the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers group. Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justices Hanan Melcer, Neal Hendel, Isaac Amit, and Uzi Vogelman found that “the omission with no exceptions of homosexual men from permission to use surrogacy looks like ‘suspicious’ discrimination that gives lower status to this group.”
In December 2018, responding to a previous petition by the group, the state told the court it had decided not to let gay male couples use gestational surrogacy in Israel. Among the reasons cited by the state was a statement by Benjamin Netanyahu two months earlier in which the prime minister said he supported the move but did not have a coalition majority to pass an amendment allowing it.