(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The state failed on Sunday to convince the High Court of Justice to reverse a decision it made seven years ago barring Interior Ministry officials from refusing to register the lesbian partner of a woman with a child as the child's adopting parent.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch urged the state's representative, attorney Osnat Mandel, head of the High Court section of the State Attorney's Office, to withdraw the petition.
Mandel informed the court that the Knesset was debating a bill which would order same-sex couples seeking to register both members as the child's parent to ask a court to approve the request.
According to the current law, based on judicial interpretation, the Interior Ministry must register marriages, divorces, conversions and adoptions conducted abroad as long as the official certificate issued by the foreign government confirming the status is authentic and that there is nothing obvious to contradict the certificate.
The case involves two women, Ruti and Nicole Berner-Kadish, both of whom hold dual Israeli and US citizenship. While living in California, Ruti gave birth to a son, Matan, by artificial insemination. On July 19, 1996, the state of California registered Nicole as the adopting mother.
The following year, Ruti, Nicole, Matan and their second baby, Naveh, returned temporarily to Israel. The couple presented the California-issued order stating that Nicole was Matan's adopting mother to the Interior Ministry and asked it to register Nicole as such.
The official refused, explaining that the law defined a couple as consisting of a man and a woman.
Ruti and Nicole Berner-Kadish, backed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, petitioned the High Court in 1999, demanding that Nicole be registered as Matan's adopting mother.
In a two-to-one decision, the court ruled that the Interior Ministry clerk lacked discretion and was obliged to register Nicole as Matan's adopting mother in accordance with the foreign certificate.
Less than a month later, the state asked the High Court of Justice to hold a second hearing on the matter before an expanded panel of justices in the hopes of reversing the ruling. It took more than seven years for the High Court to finally hear the sides on Sunday.
Mandel argued that the Knesset was in the process of passing a law which would make the dispute redundant. Today, there is no law governing the question of single-sex adoptions. She said the Knesset intended to pass a law which would overcome the present situation, in which the Interior Ministry clerk must register the adoption virtually automatically.
She was also hesitant to take the court's advice and withdraw the petition for fear that once the law was passed, its foes would petition the High Court to overrule the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
However, Beinisch made it clear the state could reserve the right to defend such a law even though it took the court's advice and withdrew the current petition at this time.
Mandel asked for two weeks to consult with government officials before responding to the recommendation.
Ruti and Nicole Berner-Kadish are currently living in Washington DC.