Opinion |

Israel's Gay Paradise Lost

Government officials tried to blame society's intolerance for their refusal to recognize same-sex adoptions - but the fault is in themselves

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
The annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 12, 2015.
The annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 12, 2015.Credit: Ariel Schalit, AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law last month that gives religion-based adoption services and welfare workers the right to refuse engagement with certain adoptive families on religious grounds. The law, which exists in a similar form in a few other U.S. states, is primarily meant to allow welfare workers that are devout Christians to deny adoptions to LGBTQ couples. In doing so, it also permits them to shun atheists, Muslims, Jews and just about anyone else their religion doesn’t appreciate.

The passage of the law by the Texas legislature was hailed as a victory for freedom of religion. It is part of a nationwide rearguard action by Evangelicals, Catholics and other conservatives to limit the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 recognition of same-sex marriages. To their credit, unlike Israel’s Social Affairs Ministry, these reactionaries don’t hide their opposition to same-sex adoptions behind bogus assertions of the child’s best interest. They take pride in their principled objections to granting genuine full equality to families of gays, lesbians, transgender people and anyone else who deviates from the biblical blueprint of man and woman, preferably believers in Jesus.

The quality and quantity of serious research papers that reach the conclusion that children adopted by same-sex couples are at a disadvantage compared to those adopted by opposite-sex couples is negligible anyway. As in the efforts to challenge global warming, in most cases their theological or political biases are transparent. Columbia University asserts that of 79 research papers that it has examined over the years, only four argued against same-sex adoptions, and their methodology was flawed. Some researchers maintain that adoptions by same-sex couples, such as girls who are raised by two fathers, can actually be healthier for the child.

The Israeli government’s response to a petition to the High Court to formally allow same-sex adoptions initially cited a debunked claim that children adopted by gay and lesbian couples are bound to suffer because of the stigma attached to their families. They then changed tack and tried to blame Israeli society itself. “It isn’t legitimate enough,” they claimed, citing a well-worn excuse for preserving discrimination: After all, it “wasn’t legitimate enough” in the American south for African-Americans to wash their hands in the same sinks as white people. “There are some areas, like Tel Aviv, in which it is more acceptable,” they added, “and other areas in which it isn’t.” By this logic, ultra-Orthodox Jews shouldn’t be allowed to adopt either, because they would stand out in secular Tel Aviv suburbs, and leftists should be barred from adopting as well, because they would be completely ostracized if they chose to move to a radical Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Gay and lesbian people, like most other human beings, tend to live in places in which they and their children are received warmly and are not considered “deviant,” unless the Israeli government portrays them as such.

As in Texas, fundamentalists and reactionaries who view members of the LGBTQ community as “perverts,” as a respected national religious rabbi recently said, wield enormous political power. In Israel, on the other hand, members of the LGBTQ community can console themselves with the thought that they are not alone. On matters of birth, death, marriage, conversions and a whole range of other issues, their country discriminates against mixed marriages, people disqualified from Orthodox marriages, Reform and Conservative U.S. Jews and more – never mind Arabs and Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

The public outcry that led Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz to ask the High Court on Tuesday to grant an extension so that the government could reassess its position is proof that the problem is not with Israeli society, which is mostly tolerant and open to persuasion, but with the government and coalition that runs its affairs. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that what forced the government’s hand is the heavy damage sustained by the ongoing hasbara campaign to portray Israel as an LGBTQ paradise, which was so convincing that even gay and lesbian people started to believe it actually existed.

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