Justice Minister Pushes Bill to End Adoption Discrimination Against Israeli LGBT Couples

Amir Ohana's proposed bill is only a symbolic declaration as this point, as no new legislation can be advanced until after the September election

Amir Ohana at Justice Ministry event, August 8, 2019.
Emil Salman

Justice Minister Amir Ohana said on Wednesday that the first legislative initiative of his office will be the promotion of a bill to end discrimination against same-sex couples in adopting children.

Ohana’s proposed bill seeks to remove the section of the existing law, which states that only a “man and his wife” are entitled to begin the process to adopt a child.

The Justice Ministry will distribute a draft version of the bill on Thursday to the relevant ministries to receive their professional opinions before drafting the final version to be submitted to the Knesset.

>> Read more: Left in limbo for months, Israeli LGBT parents not legally recognized until after birth

For now, Ohana’s declaration is only symbolic, because until a new government is formed after the September 17 election, the Knesset is in recess and cannot advance any legislation.

If ultra-Orthodox parties join the government after the election as they are expected to, they are likely to try to block the bill.

In October 2018, Ohana – who is openly gay –  was one of four MKs from the coalition who voted in favor of the surrogacy bill proposed by the opposition, which saught to make same-sex couples eligible for the surrogacy process. The bill was defeated by the coalition’s opposition.

A few months earlier, in June, the LGBT community won a rare achievement in the Knesset after a bill that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation passed its preliminary vote, by a slight 37 to 36 majority – after Ohana voted in its favor, opposing the government’s position. Since then the bill has been kept from advancing.

In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he personally supported “surrogate parenthood for the LGBT community but at this moment we don’t have a coalition majority to pass such legislation. When we do, we will do so.” He added at the time: “It’s not an issue of right or left but rather one of humanity… My wife and I have often helped members of the LGBT community. In 2015 we did a lot on behalf of those who were stuck after the earthquake in Nepal, with the aim of bringing them all safely to Israel.”

“I’ve asked MK Amir Ohana to draw up a bill we could get coalition partners to pass, which we could put before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation next month,” he added. “I heard your comments and your stories, and we identified with your desire to have children, to raise a family. That’s what you want and that’s what I want, too.”

This is not the first bill Ohana has tried to promote on behalf of the LGBT community. In the previous Knessets, Ohana sponsored a bill to amend Israel’s penal code to define hate crimes as also including crimes committed based on motives related to gender identity. The bill was intended to help protect transgender people from violence.

But in 2016, Ohana absented himself from a Knesset vote on a number of bills intended to benefit the LGBT community, after arraging in advance that a member of the opposition would offset his vote by also being absent. These laws involved civil unions for LGBT couples, recognition of a widower in same-sex relations as a bereaved family member and a ban on conversion therapy. Ohana made it clear at the time that he was obligated to vote according to the government’s position and could not support bills on behalf of the LGBT community if they did not receive the backing of the government coalition.