White House lights up after gay marriage ruling.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week’s narrow decision by the US Supreme Court that the US Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry was a watershed moment in the struggle of the gay rights movement, in America and worldwide.
The decision that legalizes gay marriage in all 50 states was met with an outpouring of celebration, with countless social media statuses lighting up in rainbow colors, the White House doing the same and many same-sex couples heading directly to county clerks’ offices for marriage licenses in states where gay marriages had been banned.
“This ruling is a victory for America,” said President Barack Obama. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”
That lesson should be applied to Israel. True, the country, which ended its ban on same-sex relations in 1988 and introduced laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1992, has been ahead of the US in some instances of its civil rights policies toward the LGBT community.
Same-sex couples receive the same socioeconomic benefits as heterosexual couples from the National Insurance Institute, and long before the US military’s change in policy, the IDF fully accepted soldiers regardless of sexual orientation. More so, the army recently set a policy ensuring that gay couples do not have to perform mandatory reserve duty at the same time.
When it comes to marriage, however, gay couples meet the same fate as couples of different religions, a Kohen and a widow, and other instances of pairings that do not fit into the state’s Chief Rabbinate’s stringent regulation of who can officially wed in Israel.
And it does not look likely, with the present coalition configuration dominated by Orthodox parties, that the policy is going to change. Based on the rabbinate’s monopoly of life cycle events, Israel does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in Israel and allows only heterosexual couples to enter into an Israel-based surrogacy arrangement to conceive a child.
Unlike the monumental upheaval that occurred in the US, any change to Israel’s policy is going to have to come from the country’s lawmakers, not its judiciary.
That is an uphill battle. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said all the right things over the weekend when he expressed support for the US Supreme Court.
“Every person has the right to marry and have children, regardless of their sexual orientation. I hope additional countries, including Israel, will follow in the footsteps of the United States and grant this basic right to all,” tweeted Ya’alon.
But it is unlikely that Ya’alon’s party, the Likud, would be willing to take on its religious coalition partners over such a divisive issue.
Even in the previous, “secular,” government, a civil unions bill drafted by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni was blocked because of coalition politics. And that is why without revolutionary changes in our legislators’ mindsets, bills Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union initiated by this week that would provide a civil alternative to couples who do not want to go through the rabbinate to get married will ultimately be placed into the nonstarter file.
We agree with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid who said he was encouraged by Ya’alon’s tweet and called for broad support to help Israel take the big step to provide full rights for gay couples. “The time has come for cooperation across party lines and across the coalition and opposition to allow civil unions,” he said.
Oded Frid, director-general of the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, said this week that he is optimistic about the prospects of marriage equality taking hold in the country.
He cited surveys that consistently show 60 percent of Israelis favor equal rights for LGBT people, including marriage equality.
“We have great support from Knesset members and from ministers in the government in the Likud and Kulanu, and if they will make the effort needed, it can pass in Israel as well,” Frid said. “You have to be optimistic, take baby steps. We hope to see the day the US had in Israel some day in the near future.”
Livni, in her welcoming response to Ya’alon’s reaction to the US court decision, threw the gauntlet down before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regularly touts the country’s progressive policies on gay rights.
“It will be interesting to see if the prime minister, who is proud of Israel’s pluralism and welcomed the gay community just a few weeks ago, will vote against my proposal,” Livni said.
Let us hope that the result will be one that will fill us with pride.