Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White), who also serves as Israel’s Justice Minister, is pushing to recognize thousands of civil marriages of couples who do not meet the criteria for recognition by the chief rabbinate, Yediot Aharonot reported Monday morning.
Last week, Gantz reportedly held a working meeting with senior Justice Ministry officials and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. With Mandelblit’s support, it was decided to draft a memorandum of law to permit couples who are unable to marry under the existing system to be registered by the State as married.
The move would, if undertaken, would extend state recognition of marriages performed in Israel to same-sex marriages, as well as to interfaith couples.
Sources close to Gantz say Mandelblit approved the change and the passage of legislation to that effect, even during the lame-duck session on the eve of next month’s general election, citing the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the closure of Israeli airports, which has prevented couples seeking to marry abroad from doing so.
However, the planned change to Israel’s marriage registrar system would be permanent, according to the report.
“We are working to help couples who want but are unable to get married through the rabbinate to get the basic right to be registered as a couple during the period when the skies are closed,” said Gantz.
“The concept of equality is one of the most basic things in democracy. We can’t stand idly by in the current situation when the closure of the skies deprives many Israeli citizens of the basic right to get married. Civil marriage is just and should be passed into law even without any connection to the coronavirus, but the circumstances require that even those opposed to the law for many years should show solidarity towards those couples who wish to establish a family in Israel, especially during these complicated times.”
Under the system inherited from the British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire before it, marriages in Israel are recognized by the State only if they are performed under the auspices of one of the religious establishments administered by the State, such as the chief rabbinate, the Israeli Sharia court system, the Druze court system, or one of the ten official Christian churches recognized by the State.
While Israel does recognize marriages performed outside of the country, allowing couples unable to receive recognition from a religious authority inside of Israel to get their marriages recognized, the system – and its possible reform – has become a hot-button issue in Israeli politics.