Knesset c'tee approves civil marriage bill for final reading

If Knesset plenum supports bill, the state will officially recognize union conducted in Israel but not by a recognized religious court.

March 9, 2010 11:32
3 minute read.
David Rotem.

David Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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The Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday approved for second and final readings a bill paving the way for civil marriages for Israeli couples if both members are registered in the Population Registry as not having any religion.

If approved by the Knesset plenum, it will mark the first time the state will officially recognize union that have been conducted in Israel but not by a recognized religious court.

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The coalition outnumbered the opposition on the committee and easily approved each article of the bill and then the bill in its entirety. But some opposition MKs warned that the legislation would make the situation worse than it currently was by granting religious courts powers they have not had until now.

According to the bill, “a couple who do not have a religion and who agree to enter into a couple covenant, may do so before the registrar of couples and be registered in the registry of couples...” in accordance with conditions set down in the law.

The registrar will examine the couples’ requests to see if they meet these conditions. If he is satisfied, he will make a public announcement of the couple’s intent and send one copy of the request to the heads of each of the religious courts – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druse. If the head of any court suspects that an applicant belongs to his religion, he will bring the matter to his religious court for examination. If the court rules that the applicant does indeed belong to that religion, the registrar will reject the application.

The registrar may also hear opposition to the couple wishing to enter into a covenant from the public at large.

If both members of the couple agree to end the covenant, the registrar will erase their names from the registry. If one of the sides disagrees, the dispute will be brought before a court.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued an opinion on the bill saying it would provide a solution for only about 170 couples, or 3.8 percent of all the couples who marry each year.

“The bill does not give a suitable solution to those registered as not having a religion,” ACRI wrote. “It continues the discrimination and unfair treatment of this sector.”

Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) described the bill as a “political bluff.”

Dov Henin (Hadash) urged the Kadima faction, which has announced that it will vote for the legislation even though it is dissatisfied with it, to vote against because the bill because it “very widely extends the prerogatives of the rabbinical courts” by giving them the final say on whether an Israeli citizen or resident belongs to one of the recognized religions or not. He stressed that according to the proposal, the religious courts would have the power to block couples registered as not having a religion from marrying.

“This is a very dramatic and far-reaching change,” Henin warned. “It changes the religious status quo.”

But Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) was unmoved. He said he too wanted to achieve more but that this was the best he could do under the political circumstances.

“The issue is very simple,” Rotem said. “Do we want to bang our heads against the wall and achieve nothing? Or do we want to move ahead in stages?

“Let’s say we accepted all your motions to change the contents of the bill. You know very well that under those circumstances, it would not pass. We must be smart. The all-or-nothing approach has achieved nothing during the 62 years of the state’s existence. In parliament, we need hands [i.e. votes.] We don’t have enough hands [for a far-reaching bill].”

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