Equality for Israel's LGBT Remains Virtual, Despite Outpourings of Support

If everyone is so committed to the issue, how is it possible that equality has still not arrived?

Olivier Fitoussi

Elections are near, and everyone has remembered the LGBT community. Who didn’t show up for the political rally the community held last Friday in honor of the coming elections, and promised to act for equality for the members of the community? Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his blessing through a clip screened at the conference. On the opposition side, Tzipi Livni and Zahava Gal-On also appeared.

To judge by what was said at the conference by members of the coalition – for example Ya’alon, who expressed his support for the right of community members to family life, including marriage – the footsteps of the Messiah are already here. In practice, it is possible to wonder why he himself has not appeared: If everyone is so committed to the issue, how is it possible that equality has still not arrived?

The Civil Union Bill that Yesh Atid promised to implement disappeared as if it never existed. In areas such as adoption and surrogacy there is still no equality, and almost all the rights of the community were achieved through court rulings – certainly those concerning recognizing same-sex couples and families with two mothers or two fathers.

It is possible to continue and accuse the ultra-Orthodox (who were not in the present coalition), or Habayit Hayehudi that was in the coalition and did cast a veto. But we need to remember that the pretty words have remained mostly just that: words. Everyone is committed to equality – and there is no equality.

There were a few exceptional members of the coalition who actually did something. Health Minister Yael German advanced a more lenient procedure for gender reassignment surgery, which helps transgenders. She also tried to advance an amendment to the Surrogacy Law, which even though there were controversial aspects, was intended to remove the discrimination against same-sex couples (and also for single women) in everything concerning making surrogacy accessible in Israel. The bill passed in its first reading in the Knesset, but there was no progress because of the early elections.

Moti Milrod

Livni demonstrated commitment to the LGBT community too, but the most significant changes in legislation and policy on the matter came as a result of initiatives of MKs who are committed to human rights in general, such as the changes sponsored by Meretz (for example, the revocation of the ban on sex between members of the same sex in 1988, and adding the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation to the law on equal opportunity in employment in 1992, which opened the way for the recognition of equality for the LGBT community), or the MKs of the Labor party (ending the discrimination in military service, by Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 as a result of the actions of Yael Dayan). In the latest Knesset, only an amendment concerning a ban on discrimination against LGBT people in the students’ rights law was passed, sponsored by Dov Khenin of Hadash, who has also been committed to the issue for many years.

So it would seem that it is possible to rejoice that even the parties of the center and right have finally recognized the rights of LGBT people to equality and that such declarations are coming from wall to wall – but the gap between this talk and the fact that the significant changes in legislation on the matter were made many years ago testifies that for now equality is only virtual. It is true that developments in court rulings have greatly reduced the inequality, but they have not eliminated it. There are issues that receive less attention and whose solution does not necessarily lie in legislation, such as the distress of LGBT youths, or homophobia and transphobia that are expressed in violence, even within the educational system.

And no less important, the talk of equality for the LGBT community rings hollow when it comes from the mouths of those who at the same time promote a policy of inequality toward Palestinians, asylum seekers and the poor. Promoting LGBT rights on the part of those who harm the rights of many others can cause that person to feel very liberal and enlightened, but then it is serving as a pink fig leaf for the oppression of others.