A right to marriage

Why rights for one minority, but not for the other?; One of Israel’s major failures is denying gay couples the ability to marry.

July 6, 2013 23:09
San Francisco after hearing of the US Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.

Gay rights celebration San Francisco 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

Most of us have been to similar weddings: one side of the family in Israel, the other from abroad.

The families hold a wedding ceremony here in Israel where the “new” kinfolk are introduced around and everyone “oohs” and “aahs” at how lovely it all is. So when, in the spring of 1997, Tel Avivians Moshe and Debby Dayan invited me to the wedding of their son Ron I was delighted.

The party was a blast. Great food, nice music, good vibes and much joy. But there was no bride. Ron’s spouse is a man; Greg Poole, originally from Montreal. Ron and Greg had already had a commitment ceremony there (legal marriage was still unavailable to them anywhere in the world at the time). Debby and Moshe had flown to Montreal to attend. This time Greg brought his parents and sisters to renew the link with their in-laws and to get a taste of Israel.

Greg subsequently converted to Judaism when their twins, now 12 years old and conceived with the help of eggs from Greg’s sister, sperm from Ron, and the womb of a surrogate mother, where born. The Poole-Dayan family lives in New York and are all members of Beit Simcha Torah Synagogue there. The twins are quite comfortable in Hebrew when they come to visit their proud and loving Israeli grandparents each summer. That story has a happy ending.

Last week’s US Supreme Court decision, which declared DOMA (the iniquitous Defence of Marriage Act) illegal and unconstitutional, is only the latest in a long list of enactments in America and indeed, around the world, whereby slowly but surely same-sex marriages are gaining recognition as right, fair, nondiscriminatory and reasonable.

Israel, unexpectedly, has made impressive strides in annulling discrimination against the gay community and is one of the leading countries of the world granting equality; single-sex common-law spouses are a recognized legal entity; the IDF cancelled discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers some 20 years ago and they serve side-by-side with straight soldiers; discrimination in the workplace is illegal, as is discriminatory hiring and firing. Israeli society is surprisingly accepting.

There are segments of society – you need hardly guess – that are violently opposed to that acceptance, but they are a small (though vocal) minority. Acceptance is a badge of honor for Israel, and one of the reasons that the world’s gay (and other) communities look upon Israel with much admiration.

STILL, ONE of Israel’s major failures is denying gay couples the ability to marry. (Marriage is the provenance of the religious establishment here, which means that many other segments of society also suffer the same discrimination.

Ron and Greg could not then, and cannot today, marry in Israel, although single-sex marriages enacted abroad are recognized here.) Nevertheless, there have been major advances in allowing adoption and surrogacy for same-sex couples, for registering the non-Israeli partners as legal residents or even citizens and for providing social welfare services and benefits for the same-sex partner of Israelis.

Israelis and Jews abroad face anti-Semitism. Depending on the country, they are often harassed, and worse. Jewish people decry the discrimination, crying out for justice and equality. But there is a certain complacency about civil rights and equality when it comes to to the gay community.

There is a certain clash between their conservatism vis-à-vis homosexuals and lesbians, even while they demand civil equality, justice and safety as Jews.

Homosexuals are a minority, and Jews are a minority.

Both groups deserve equality and equal rights. Last weeks gay pride parades in cities such as New York and Toronto featured proudly-out Jewish and Israeli gay groups, proud as homosexuals and proud as Jews. Is there a dichotomy that I’m missing? Why rights for one minority, but not for the other? The US Supreme Court carries huge weight in rulings of courts worldwide, and America has enormous moral and cultural clout. The US court ruled on DOMA concerning equal protection and human dignity, the right for sexual expression, the welfare of children, and more. Surely these values are ones modern Israel seeks to preserve and promote? Surely, just as slavery was once taken for granted and abandoned; just as women were once denied the vote but now can; just as child labor was (in some countries still is) an accepted fact of life but is now (largely) forbidden; surely the time has come to recognize universal equality also in Israel and for the right of “the love that dare not speak its name” (to quote Oscar Wilde) to speak up, to be released from the closet and for everyone to be allowed to marry the person they love? According to The New York Times, by August 1, 8 percent of the world’s population will be living in countries or jurisdictions that allow same-sex marriage, an increase of nearly 100 percent since August last year. 2013 is clearly shaping up to be the tipping point, where the leading cultures of the progressive West are now either already there or close (US, Canada, the Netherlands, to name just three), while primitive third-world countries (Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt, for example) remain violently homophobic and diverge sharply from the code of universal ethical fairness.

Israelis should celebrate the courage it took to fight for our rights – all our rights and freedoms – especially political and national rights, but also the right to form relationships, create families, raise children and define our humanity and dignity, even before we were finally recognized and affirmed by the world’s loftiest political and legal authorities.

Already today, for young people, anti-gay discrimination is as strange and foreign as anti-Semitism is to most Israelis. It is vital to realize that the people who fought against those dark forces operated in very different realities and had to create a vision of the promised land to direct them and sustain them. It is no different for the gay community.

The despair, the anxiety and the rejection young gay people experience before they understand that they are not sick sinners, doomed to a lonely life of misery, leads many to the “final solution” that any parent dreads.

My young Jerusalem friends Arnon and Dan honored me by asking me to officiate at their commitment ceremony some 15 years ago. None of their parents would attend. That bittersweet day has flowered into pure bliss as the couple now have their own beautiful children, Liron and Itai (again, thanks to surrogacy procedures) and doting grandparents.

So much unnecessary pain, so much blinding agony – and such remorse. It is time to stop torturing the gay community and their families.

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