Despite flaws, it is premature to strike down the Civil Union Law, the High
Court said yesterday, rejecting petitions from civil rights groups.
Nevertheless, the court commented in various parts of the ruling perceived
imperfections in the law, leaving the door open for the issue to be revisited in
The Jerusalem Institute of Justice and the Association for
the Rights of Mixed Families were named as the groups that filed the
The law, passed in March 2010, enables Israelis with no
officially defined religion to join a civil union recognized by the
Even at the time it was approved, it was considered an imperfect
and only partial solution to the many groups of Israelis who could not legally
marry in Israel before its passage.
At the time, the legislation’s main
sponsor, Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu), described
it as a first step to moving the country toward greater openness regarding civil
The petitioners argued several grounds for overturning the
The core argument against the law is that it only allows civil
unions to two people who the state has defined as “religionless.” In other
words, if one person from the couple is religious or is even secular, but is
listed by the state as having been born into a state-recognized religion, the
couple cannot marry or get a civil union.
The four recognized religions
in Israel are Judaism, Islam, Christianity and the Druse faith.
means that people’s right to choose who they wish to marry is bound by the state
in ways that it is not in most Western nations even after civil unions were
According to the petitioners and many opponents in the Knesset
at the time it was passed, its passage has created a worse situation because now
there is the appearance of the old problem having been solved, while the law
really only solved the problems of a small portion of those couples who still
get no state recognition or benefits.
Another argument was that it would
increase the power of the Chief Rabbinate, by empowering it to weigh in on
whether or not an Israeli citizen listed as “without religion” was actually
A large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union
were listed as religionless when they moved to Israel.
also complained that the law discriminates against those who obtain a civil
union, as they do not possess the same rights as those who marry regarding age
of marriage, adoption rights among others.
Furthermore, the law does not
remove internal religious bars to marriage such as Judaism’s many forbidden
unions, including a Cohen marrying a divorcee.
The law also does not
provide any solution to homosexual couples.
The court declined to
overturn the law at this time, noting that the law had solved the problems of
It also noted that the law had only been passed in 2010 and
that time is needed to work out some of the issues being complained
The court advised the petitioners to turn to the Justice Ministry
for resolution of some issues, such as certain forms that civil union applicants
must sign, a judgment which the petitioners called demeaning.
example, people who consider themselves Jewish, but only have a Jewish father,
can marry other religionless persons under the law, but need to sign a
declaration that they have no religion, regardless of their
Although the court did not refer to the law’s full political
history, the judges may have unofficially been taking into account that the 2010
law, however incomplete, was the culmination of a process started in 2002 to
solve a decades old problem.
Even in its incomplete version, many Knesset
members opposed its passage on the grounds that they were opposed to creating
any mechanism for couples to get recognition outside of the religious- state
At the time many politicians who supported the legislation
said it was important to show that at least part of the marriage problems could
be solved – whereas the judges might have been worried that striking down the
law would send the opposite signal.
The Jerusalem Institute for Justice’s
Calev Meyers, said that a democracy should never have allowed “such a law on its
books” and that he hoped that those political parties who say they fight for
citizens’ rights of this kind will, after the upcoming elections, finally throw
their support behind full civil marriage. Meyers is a Messianic (Christian)
Currently, Israelis may still be recognized as civily married if
they are civily married overseas, and then apply for recognition of their status
by the Interior Ministry upon their return.
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