Jerusalem officially registered its first homosexual couple as married Monday, three months after a ruling by the High Court of Justice paved the way for same-sex couples to be listed in the Interior Ministry's Population Registry.
Binyamin and Avi Rose married on June 28 in Toronto, Canada, but immediately returned to Jerusalem to start building their life together.
"We did the civil ceremony in the hopes that we would eventually be able to make legal what we felt inside," said Avi, an informal Jewish educator for the Young Judaea youth movement.
"We wanted the government of Israel to recognize that we are a couple. It was no more of a statement than [coming from] a 'regular' couple, but we are both committed Zionists and are hopeful that our union will bring more progress on this issue."
Binyamin, a social worker and therapist who is currently studying at a Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem, said the registration process at the Interior Ministry had been fairly straightforward.
"Once we had all the right documentation, the process was pretty positive," said Binyamin, who made aliya from Britain in 2006. The clerks at the office "were a little confused by our application but they made the necessary changes to the forms and they came through beautifully for us."
"It was wonderful to get married at the city hall in Toronto, but it was far more important for the State of Israel to recognize us as a couple," said Avi, adding that his father, a rabbi in the US, facilitated a religious Jewish ceremony for the couple prior to the civil one.
He said Monday's registration sent a strong message to other gay couples that Israel recognizes and accepts them as Jews like anyone else.
"The protests last year over the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem really spooked us, and many of our friends here chose to leave the city," said Avi. "But we are very committed to building our lives in Jerusalem and the Interior Ministry provided us with a very positive experience today."
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabene Haddad confirmed that the Roses were the first same-sex couple to be registered at the ministry's Jerusalem branch.
"We work in accordance with the law," she said. "The ministry has no problem with registering same sex marriages and we have become very advanced in processing such requests elsewhere in the country."
In November, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) sponsored five High Court petitions by homosexual couples (not including the Roses) married abroad demanding that the Interior Ministry register them as married. A panel of seven justices, headed by now-retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, ruled unanimously that their marriages must be recognized by the state. None of the couples registered in Jerusalem.
Yoav Loeff, spokesman for ACRI, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday he was happy November's High Court decision had paved the way for other same sex couples to be recognized, but he said there was still a long way to go before the discrimination against such couples completely disappeared.
"There is still discrimination in Israel, and not everyone can afford or wants to go to Canada to get married," said Loeff. He said that while several other countries allowed such marriage ceremonies, Canada is a popular place for foreign couples to tie the knot because neither person is required to be a citizen.
Irit Rosenblum, director of the New Family organization, which advocates for the right of Israelis to establish marriages or unions outside of the traditional system, said the registration of a gay couple in the capital was especially significant following the violent debate over the gay pride parade.
"They deserve to live their lives like anyone else," she said. "This is more than a legal victory, it is a humanitarian victory and a message for society to be more tolerant."