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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One of the many unfinished issues piled up on the desk of the new Interior Minister, Roni Bar-On, is the question of whether or not the state will recognize consular marriages between non-Jews or those in which one partner is Jewish.
The status of consular marriages, which could be described as "the Civil Marriage Law - Lite," is due to come up in the High Court of Justice in less than two months where two petitions will be heard, both demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize marriages performed in the consular sections of foreign embassies in Israel.
Israeli law recognizes international agreements, including the one allowing couples to be married by the consul of a foreign country if at least one member of the couple is a citizen of that country. Nevertheless, no consular marriages have been performed in Israel since 1995.
It took five years for the advocates of consular marriages to discover that the Foreign Ministry had issued an internal memorandum to foreign embassies in 1995, instructing them to stop performing consular marriages, attorney Michael Corinaldi told The Jerusalem Post.
When the memorandum was discovered, New Family, a non-profit organization championing the rights of unconventional families, petitioned the High Court to allow a couple, one of whose partners was Jewish, to be married by the consulate. The organization also demanded that the Foreign Ministry withdraw the memorandum altogether.
Two years later, Shvut Am, a non-profit organization, petitioned the court to allow a couple classified as having no religion to marry in a consular ceremony, as long as there was no other way they could marry in Israel.
"The court set 10 different dates to hear the petitions," complained Corinaldi. "Each time, some other cabinet minister was replaced. Once it was the foreign minister, another time the interior minister and another time the prime minister."
Every time a date was set, the head of the Special Tasks Division of the State Attorney's Office would inform the court that there had been a change in the government, and asked for a postponement. Time after time, the court agreed.
In March, in response to another request to postpone the hearing, Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak agreed to put it off once more, this time until July.
Only once in all this time did the petitioners agree to suspend the hearings. That was in 2003, when the Sharon government, which included the Shinui Party, established a committee headed by Bar-On to prepare a bill allowing civil marriages. When Shinui resigned from the coalition, the petitioners asked the court to revive the petitions.
Attorney Irit Rosenblum, head of New Family, is certain that the government's procrastination is not over yet.
"I'm sure the state will inform the court in July that there is a new foreign minister," she said.
When The Jerusalem Post pointed out that it was up to the minister of interior to decide whether or not to register consular marriages, Rosenblum pointed out that a string of ministers who had occupied the position, including Haim Ramon, Natan Sharansky, Avraham Poraz and Ophir Paz-Pines, had all favored consular marriages, but the Foreign Ministry had not revoked its memorandum.
"The memorandum was obviously issued because of coalition considerations," said Rosenblum. It was sent when Binyamin Netanyahu served as foreign minister and Eli Yishai as interior minister."
According to Corinaldi, the main opponent to revoking the memorandum over the past few years was former foreign minister Silvan Shalom.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Shani said the ministry "had no position on the matter."
According to Corinaldi, the religious parties oppose consular marriages even if they do not include Jewish partners. "They are afraid of a slippery slope that would pave the way for mixed marriages in Israel or for Jews to declare that they do not have a religion," he explained.
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