Exposing the ‘Partnership Covenant for Religionless’

Not only does this law not provide an alternative to marriage in the rabbinic establishment, it fortifies religious coercion and the Orthodox monopoly over family life.

November 22, 2010 23:06
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Lieberman with headphones 311. (photo credit: AP)


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If you support the “Partnership Covenant” because you believe it is liberal or enlightened, think again. Read the final version of the law confirmed last week and ponder the finer points of the legislative idiocracy.

The most generous interpretation of this law is that it is simply hollow, devoid of content. A more cynical reading reveals a contemptuous twist on the needs of Avigdor Lieberman’s voters and the country’s citizens. Those who read the law might be confused into thinking it actually enables civil marriage. But the fine print, or Article 10, reveals a starkly different picture. The best use for this law is to be buried in the Knesset archives.

The “Partnership Covenant for the Religionless” legislation not only does not rectify the absence of separation of religion and state, it perpetuates and aggravates the problem by expanding the authority of the rabbinic establishment over marriage and family life to not only determine who is a Jew, but who is not a Jew, who belongs to another religion or who has no recognized religion at public expense.

The new law will enable only a man and woman, both citizens, both of whom are certified by the religious courts as having no religion recognized here, to be united in a civil procedure.

Not only does this law not provide an alternative to marriage in the rabbinic establishment, it fortifies religious coercion and the Orthodox monopoly over family life.

Of course, this law does not really permit civil marriage. It will not serve those who don’t want to go through religious institutions for official recognition of their union. It won’t help those who wish to cement their union according to their liberal, secular and free conscience. It does not provide a solution for more than 300,000 immigrants whose Jewish status is in question or contested. Jews and those deemed “religionless” will not be able to marry. It won’t provide a solution for the tens of thousands of Jews who would choose a Reform or Conservative rabbi to officiate at their wedding if it weren’t illegal.

This legislation doesn’t acknowledge same-sex couples, or even allow two certified religionless partners of the same sex to be united in a “partnership covenant.” People of different religions who wish to marry find no redemption in this law. The law will serve a minuscule proportion of the population. Statistics show that it will serve a maximum of 30,000 people. It is unlikely that many couples from among this small population will wish to have their union recognized in a partnership covenant, which is itself legally inferior to marriage. None have registered so far.

A real solution to civil marriage should be just that: civil marriage. Any other substitute is deception. This muddled law needs to be buried.

IF YOU don’t believe me, read Article 10a, which states that the law will not harm the “unique authority of the religious court over marriage and divorce of couples who belong to the religion of the court.” The legislation which was supposed to provide a solution to immigrants who are not Jewish – a substantial share of Lieberman’s electorate – will oblige them to go to the rabbinic establishment or court of another religion to get certification that they are indeed religionless in order to form a legal union, which should be their automatic civil right as citizens and an inalienable human right.

Alongside the inevitable aggravation and unnecessary financial burden this bureaucratic procedure will entail, those people who don’t want an official stamp of religious approval for their union will be forced to go through an invasive and humiliating process clarifying their religious heritage and credentials just to have their union recognized.

Those who read the law are likely to misunderstand the legislators’intent. The text actually does refer to an alternative, equal in rights and obligations, through which a male and a female adult citizen can form a legal union which is not marriage according to religious law. But that’s not the way it really is. Any legal document, especially legislation, should be read carefully, especially Article 10 of the “Partnership Covenant for the Religionless,” which makes a mockery of the constituency of the party that legislated this idiotic law.

The law that will be written into the books of the State of Israel is little more than an illusion of a solution to the absence of civil marriage.

The author is a family law attorney, founder and executive director of New Family.

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