Two weeks after the High Court of Justice issued a 6-1 ruling ordering the Interior Ministry to register five homosexual couples married abroad, the Knesset approved the first reading of legislation that seeks to overturn that decision. In a vote whose timing took many coalition MKs by surprise, the plenum decided 33 to 31 to approve a bill sponsored by MK Michael Eitan (Likud) that would make it illegal for the state to recognize same-sex marriages. The bill had been expected to fail, as the Meretz Party and many MKs from the coalition had to oppose it. The vote, however, was conducted during a time when many MKs are away from the plenum for lunch. Several lawmakers who were scheduled to discuss the bill from the podium failed to appear and the speaker, following the House Committee's schedule for the day, called a vote before many MKs were able to return to their seats. Before the vote, Labor and Meretz MKs could be seen running through the hallways attempting to reach the plenum in time. Ultimately, they were forced to apologize to gay-rights activists who had gathered to lobby against the bill. "Clearly this is a disappointment for us," said Itai Pinkas, a Tel Aviv resident who married his partner in Canada two years ago. "We are nearly certain that this will not pass a second and third vote." Pinkas said it was a good sign that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voted against Eitan's bill. While many legislators promised Pinkas they'd be present in the plenum for the next vote, their track record does not bode well for the gay activists. Since Israel Beiteinu joined the coalition, expanding it by 11 MKs, many lawmakers have cut down on their attendance in the plenum. As a result, the opposition has won several votes.