Protesters support civil marriage for all
Protesters support civil marriage for allIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party has threatened to torpedo a law that would allow secular marriages in Israel - a change Yesh Atid supports - if it does not include coverage for homosexual couples. The Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) faction has firmly opposed the bill, saying it contravenes everything the Jewish State stands for.

This is a battle that has been taking place around the world, and certainly in Western countries, for at least the past decade. In the United States, individual states and legislators have come under increased pressure by alternative lifestyle movements to change their laws to allow such marriages.

The current law in Israel allows civil marriage only for those with no religious affiliation; marriages between citizens affiliated with a religion are recognized only if conducted by clergy belonging to a recognized religion.

Secular activist groups have objected, arguing that even couples who are able to marry in a religious ceremony should have the option of a secular ceremony recognized by the state.

The law proposed by MK Meir Sheetrit of Hatnua, a small secularist party led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, would change the long-standing Israeli practice of leaving marriages to recognized religions by allowing for marriages under direct state auspices. Former attempts to institute civil marriages have failed by a large margin.

Sheetrit’s law would apply only to heterosexual couples. However, Livni herself has expressed willingness to change the law to include same-sex couples as well. Livni told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) that in recent meetings with activists from the gay and lesbian community, she learned that the issue of gaining state recognition for homosexual marriage is one of the community’s top goals.

Livni anticipated opposition from the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) faction, she said. Religious Jewish factions voted for a law to allow civil marriage between non-Jews, but have opposed expanding the law to include all citizens of Israel.

“There are about 300,000 people who cannot marry, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” Livni claimed, referring to immigrants who qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish.

Israel allowed anyone with a vague connection to Judaism to immigrate during the period the leftist Meretz party was in control of the Ministry of Absorption, with the admitted goal of diluting the influence of the religious and traditional population - the vast majority - of Israelis.

Many such immigrants were allowed to enter as Jews under the law which states any person has the right to become a citizen of Israel who can document ancestry of one Jewish grandparent on either the maternal or paternal side, but others falsified their connection to Jewish relatives.. According to Torah law, however, a Jew is defined only as one who is born to a Jewish mother, following the maternal line stretching back to the Biblical Matriarch Sarah.

This discrepancy in status definition has caused endless heartache and other problems in Israel when the children of these immigrants seek marriage partners and wish to enter into other activities that require Torah-legal Jewish status.

"The question here is basic – is there cooperation in this government?," said Livni. "I would be very happy to cooperate with Yesh Atid on this,” she continued. “The Bayit Yehudi faction may object. Bringing Bayit Yehudi into the government created a situation where the government may be unable to pass laws regarding religion and the state,” she added.

MK Zevulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) voiced strong opposition to the bill. “The foundation of the entire Jewish world, of the entire world, is the family,” he said. “A family is made up of both sexes. That is how children are brought into the world.”

“Living one’s private life in a certain way is one thing,” he said. “To give it a public stamp of approval – we would be the first country on earth to recognize this kind of marriage.”