Gay victory

Soon the winds of change that have swept across America and much of Europe will arrive at our shores.

June 27, 2013 22:26
3 minute read.
LGBT olim, Gay Pride Parade, Tel Aviv, June 2013.

LGBT olim gay pride521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Whether you welcome them as an extension of equal rights to homosexuals who have long suffered discrimination, or you oppose them as an attack on traditional family values, same-sex marriages are apparently here to stay. Soon the winds of change that have swept across America and much of Europe will arrive at our shores.

This week, the US Supreme Court in a landmark case struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which had prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. More than anything, the ruling reflected how deeply public opinion has come around to accepting same-sex marriages since the law was approved during the Clinton administration.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 53 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriages, a record high for that survey. Support was higher among Democrats and independents, but even among Republicans, 27% favored gay marriages.

The sea change in Western attitudes is not restricted to the US. In April, the French parliament gave final approval to same-sex marriage. With a population of 65 million, it is the most populous country to do so.

France followed in the footsteps of eight other European countries that allow gay marriage: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Denmark. In the Americas, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay have all passed same-sex legislation (as have 12 states in the US). South Africa recognizes them and the UK is considering a similar bill, which is supported by the government there and seems headed for passage this year.

The only recent setback was the sudden delay of a vote on same-sex legislation in the state of Illinois, apparently due to lack of support for the bill in the legislature.

The momentum is so strong that it seems the controversial has been transformed into the obvious.

In many ways, Israel already provides more expansive rights to the LGBT community than many Western countries.

In the US, for instance, only now, after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, will federal immigration authorities begin recognizing the non- American spouse in same-sex marriages for the purpose of citizenship. (Many Israelis with dual US citizenship will for the first time be able to immigrate to the US with their non-American spouses if they so choose.) In contrast, in Israel, the Law of Return – which provides automatic Israeli citizenship to Diaspora Jews who choose to immigrate and to their non-Jewish spouses – has since 2011 been interpreted as including a non-Jewish spouse in a same-sex marriage.

Since a 2006 High Court ruling, our immigration authorities must record same-sex marriages performed abroad. In 2005 and in 2009, courts recognized the right of same-sex couples to adopt. And gay couples enjoy the same rights as straight ones for the purposes of inheritance, taxes and real estate. The city of Tel Aviv recognizes unmarried couples – including gays and lesbians – as family units and grants them discounts in daycare, the use of swimming pools, sports facilities and other citysponsored activities.

If marriages and divorces were not monopolized by religious authorities – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druse – same-sex marriages would have been recognized long ago. But since there is no provision even for straight civil marriages, and since none of the religions authorized to perform marriages in Israel recognizes same-sex unions, Israel has bucked the trend.

But this probably will not last. In 2009, a Dialog/Haaretz poll found that 61% of Israelis supported civil marriage for homosexuals. A poll conducted by Channel 2 before the January 2013 election found that Likud Beytenu, Labor, Yesh Atid, Hatnua, Meretz and Hadash would support same-sex marriage if it came up for a vote in the Knesset. Hatnua’s chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who is also justice minister, and MK Meir Sheetrit have drafted legislation that would recognize homosexual marriages. The only party in the coalition expected to oppose the bill is Bayit Yehudi.

Denying recognition to same-sex unions is fast becoming an untenable position. In Israel, the struggle by secular groups to institutionalize civil marriage might end up being won because of the tremendous gains by the gay community in the recognition of same-sex marriages.

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