In first, Israel recognizes three civil marriages performed online

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri vows to fight recognition of such marriages.

THE WEDDING is great, but in real life getting to ‘happily ever after’ is not always easy.  (Pictured: A newly wed couple outside a Moscow marriage registration palace) (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE WEDDING is great, but in real life getting to ‘happily ever after’ is not always easy. (Pictured: A newly wed couple outside a Moscow marriage registration palace)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a surprise development, the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry recognized three civil marriages performed online through the US state of Utah for Israeli citizens who never even left the country.
Interior Minister Arye Deri quickly responded to the report, however, saying he would not give authorization to such marriages, although it does not appear he has the authority to intervene in the matter.
According to a report by KAN News Wednesday morning, the three couples availed themselves of Utah’s online civil marriage service and presented the documentation they received from the state with an apostille – a legal instrument validating official documents – to different branches of the Population Authority.
Officials at the authority were reportedly bewildered by these civil marriages since they had never before encountered such a phenomenon, and said the matter needed reviewing before approval.
This Sunday, that approval was granted to a lesbian couple from Rehovot who had used Utah’s online civil marriage service and requested recognition from the authority. Two other couples obtained approval on Tuesday.
A representative for the Population Authority confirmed the details of the report.
Shortly afterward, Deri’s office issued a statement saying that he “does not give approval to marriage registration for weddings performed abroad via the Zoom application,” in reference to the videoconferencing software.
“Several requests for marriage registration [of online civil marriages] were submitted recently without the issue having been presented to the legal and administrative departments of the Population and Immigration Authority,” Deri’s office said in a statement to the press.
“Minister Deri instructed to stop dealing with these requests until the issue is presented to senior officials in the Population and Immigration Authority and the interior minister for a decision.”
Director of the Israel Be Free religious freedom group Uri Keidar said, however, that Deri and the ministry had no authority not to recognize the marriages, since the state of Utah has given its legal authorization for them, and the State of Israel is therefore legally bound to recognize them.
Keidar said that if Deri and the ministry sought to retract the recognition of the marriages, his organization would petition the High Court of Justice against any such effort.
He said that the state had pushed such couples “into a corner” due to the lack of civil marriage, and noted that if the marriage should not be successful, they would still need to divorce through the Chief Rabbinate.
“Until the state finally recognizes the right of Israelis to marry without the rabbinate... we will continue to see courageous mayors recognize civil marriages and many other alternatives to this disconnected government,” said Keidar.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman condemned Deri’s decision, saying acerbically, “Israeli citizens pay dearly for Deri and [United Torah Judaism chairman Yaacov] Litzman’s marriage to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but he doesn’t allow others to get married.”
Liberman said that his party would put an end to the situation in which “those who serve in the army, pay taxes and contribute to society are seen by the state as second-class citizens, while Shas and United Torah Judaism extort budgets and dictate to others how to live.”
Israel has no provision for civil marriage inside the country, although it does recognize civil marriages performed abroad, a situation that secularist and religious freedom activists deplore.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of couples seeking civil marriage indefinitely stuck since foreign travel is currently extremely difficult, making the lack of civil marriage options even more acute.