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Knesset to decide on civil marriage

Ground-breaking Yesh Atid proposal to Knesset yesterday would legalise civil marriage, extend right to gays and allow for interfaith marriages
by ANT KATZ | Oct 30, 2013

A Bill legalising civil marriage in Israel was submitted to the Knesset yesterday by the Yesh Atid party. If passed, the Bill will allow any two people — no matter their religion or sexual orientation — to enter into a civil union with the same legal status as any marriage.

This is significant in that marriages in Israel are presently only conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and other religious institutions recognised by the state. Israel does recognise civil marriages of immigrants and citizens who get married outside of the country, which presently forces many Israelies to travel overseas to centres such as Cyprus if, for example, a Reform and Orthodox couple wish to wed.

The new Bill would create a secular, egalitarian marriage track outside the current system, say Yesh Atid leaders, while the Bill will not infringe on the state’s religious establishment. Education Minister Shai Piron and lawmaker Dov Lipman — two Orthodox Rabbis from Yesh Atid — were involved in writing the bill.

But the measure is causing friction in the ruling government coalition, with the Jewish Home party already coming out against it and Hatnua party planning to submit its own version.

Israeli marriage laws go back to Ottoman Times

Currently, all Israeli marriages are legally valid only if they are conducted in formal state religious institutions, whether through the Jewish rabbinate, Muslim sharia institutions, Catholic canon courts or a handful of other recognized, state-funded religious denominations.

This legal situation, inherited from the Ottoman era, has meant that some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants who have Jewish relatives and are eligible to immigrate to Israel as Jews under Israeli law cannot marry at all, as the rabbinate does not consider them Jews under Jewish law and will not perform a wedding service for them with either Jews or non-Jews. Similarly, non-Orthodox (and, more recently, some Orthodox) converts to Judaism have been unable to marry under Israeli law.

Until today, the only way for many of these Israelis to marry was to do so abroad.

The new Bill would create a completely secular, egalitarian marriage track that would grant couples the legal protections of marriage without forcing them to go through the state religious systems.

 “We have no interest in challenging the religious establishment or other [political] parties,” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said Tuesday. “Our own religious MKs, who include two rabbis [Education Minister Shai Piron and MK Dov Lipman], were intimately involved in writing the bill. Our only goal is to give every Israeli citizen – Jewish or non-Jewish, gay or straight – the opportunity to have their country recognize their right to love.”

The bill creates “a civil agreement for a shared life between two people,” according to Calderon.

Far from being “an attack on halachic marriage,” she said, the bill “does not overstep into the rabbinate’s territory. Its goal is to enable any couple that can’t or doesn’t want to marry in the rabbinate to live meaningful lives without losing their civil rights.”

The goal, Calderon concluded, “is to bring a bill that befits a Jewish, sane, welcoming state.”

Before the ink on the new bill had a chance to dry, criticism from more conservative MKs could be heard on Tuesday afternoon.

MK Yoni Chetboun of the Jewish Home party, for one, slammed the bill for attempting to introduce “civil marriage and homosexual marriage.” His response? “It’s not right and it won’t happen.”

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