A small-scale bureaucratic tweak in the United States could have sweeping consequences for Israelis who have long sought to allow civil marriage in their country.
A district court in Lod, an Israeli city, ruled Friday that Israel’s Interior Ministry is required to recognize the marriages of couples who use a virtual wedding service provided by Utah County in Utah.
If the decision stands, it would mean that couples who do not want to or cannot have an Orthodox Jewish wedding could get the benefits of marriage without leaving Israel, as they are currently required to do.
Those include same-sex couples, interfaith couples, and couples in which one partner is not recognized by one of the established religious authorities.
Jewish marriage in Israel has long been controlled by the Orthodox state rabbinate. Until now, marriages not recognized by the Israeli religious establishment had to occur abroad in order to be registered by the Interior Ministry, which for long periods was under the control of Orthodox parties. Cyprus in particular emerged as a wedding destination.
Israeli couples lost the ability to travel abroad to get married when the pandemic began in early 2020. Some of them turned to an online wedding service launched the previous year by the country clerk in Provo, Utah, to streamline what had been a balky bureaucratic process. By May of 2020, it became recognized as a service to local couples who could not safely obtain a marriage license in person because of COVID-19.
Officials in Utah said they did not realize the convenience the service would provide to countries with restrictive marriage laws but were pleased to offer it once requests flooded in.
Among those countries was Israel. After the Interior Ministry, then under the control of the haredi Shas Party, froze registrations of the online Utah marriages, a number of couples, backed by Israeli NGOs, filed a lawsuit. Among the couples who used the Utah service are Idan Roll, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and his partner, a popular singer.
Right-wing lawmakers politicians in Israel, including from the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party, are decrying the ruling and pledging to advance legislation that would negate it, the Times of Israel is reporting. Those parties have been in the opposition, but Israel’s fragile coalition dissolved itself last month and elections are due to take place in November.