Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem
Gay Pride Parade in JerusalemIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (HaTnua) has reportedly initiated the process for introducing Israel's controversial Civil Marriage bill, which could potentially allow legal intermarriages and same-sex marriages under Israel law. A justice ministry official has reportedly claimed that Livni specifically seeks "to legislate an official status for the union of couples in joint life, which reflects their will to live together, have a family life and joint household, without marrying according to personal law." 

Livni's proposal currently is in the form of a memorandum, which was released to members of the Knesset as well as the public yesterday (Sunday) to enable comments and changes over a three-week period before being formulated into a formal bill.  

The controversial move follows both last week's proposal of the 'Tzohar bill', which allows couples to choose which municipal Rabbinate by which to process marriage licenses, and a string of Livni-backed radical proposals to the Knesset, including last week's release of 26 convicted terrorists as preconditions to peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. 

Jewish marriage in Israel is currently under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate. Secular couples who do not wish to marry under the Rabbinate' often travel to Cyprus, where they get married and return home the same day with a legally recognized marriage certificate. 

A civil marriage option does exist at the moment, but it is only available for persons defined as being "without religion" - usually immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were privy to the Right of Return, but cannot be recognized formally as Jews by the Interior Ministry. 

Hopes remain high that the civil marriage bill will be rejected by the ministerial committee on legislation, where Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) MKs, including Housing Minister Uri Ariel, have already vowed to prevent the bill from passing preliminary stages. The issue of civil marriage has already reportedly threatened the critical alliance between Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, which provides the foundation of the current coalition. 

Surprisingly, Rabbi Binyamin Lau, a respected public figure and biographer of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, has reportedly made a statement supporting the civil union proposal, suggesting that the change could cause "much of the hatred of religion by secular Israelis to disappear."