Marriage laws placed in spotlight as Yesh Atid makes waves with civil unions bill

The bill, called "historic" by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, is very unlikely to pass due to Bayit Yehudi's veto power.

Gay wedding holding hands 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Pepe Marin)
Gay wedding holding hands 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Pepe Marin)
Yesh Atid MKs Aliza Lavie and Ruth Calderon submitted a bill to make civil unions legal Tuesday, sparking a political uproar.
The proposal’s chances of becoming law are slim, however, as the Bayit Yehudi party has veto power on all matters of religion and state.
The Yesh Atid bill would allow any two people – regardless of sexual orientation or religion – to fill out a form in a courthouse requesting that their civil union be recognized.
A civil union is defined as “an agreement conducted according to this law to live together as a couple and have a family life and joint household.”
Two people in a civil union would fall under the same legal status as married people.
The conditions for two people to have a civil union would be that they be 18 or older and not relatives, married to another person or already married to each other.
“This is a historic step in the civil revolution we’re leading, and it cannot fall because of small-minded politics or a war on credit,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Facebook. Lapid added that the party’s goal is “to allow every Israeli citizen – Jewish or not, gay or straight – to receive recognition of his right to love from his country.”
“We have no interest in provoking the religious establishment or other parties, and our religious MKs, which include two rabbis [Education Minister Shai Piron and MK Dov Lipman] were very involved in writing the bill,” the Yesh Atid leader explained.
Calderon also emphasized that the bill “is not fighting halachic marriage and does not enter the rabbinate’s territory,” and is “the appropriate law for a sane and enlightened Jewish state.”
Despite Yesh Atid’s insistence that they are not seeking to harm the rabbinate, Bayit Yehudi came out against the bill, with a party spokesman saying that “matters of religion and state will be dealt with by consensus and not through headlines in the press.”
In fact, the coalition agreement says: “Changes of legislation in matters of religion and state will happen by agreement by all components of the coalition.”
As such, any party in the coalition may veto any other party’s proposals on the topic.
Thus, the Yesh Atid bill cannot be brought to a vote without it breaching the coalition agreement.
“We proved in recent months that we are working for proportionate changes in the sensitive issues of the country’s Jewish identity, like supporting a longer daylight-saving time and the [Tzohar Bill] passed yesterday,” the Bayit Yehudi spokesman added. “Any declaration of ‘revolutions’ that are not coordinated and agreed upon will get headlines for an hour but will fall after two hours. On the other hand, anything reached through dialogue will get Bayit Yehudi’s support and will bridge parts of the nation.”
A Bayit Yehudi source expressed hope that the bill will not get to a point where the party will exercise its veto and that Yesh Atid will open its doors to dialogue on the issue. Most bills have a 45-day waiting period before reaching the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, giving the parties plenty of time to talk before civil unions are brought to a vote.
Meanwhile, Bayit Yehudi MKs and ministers panned the Yesh Atid proposal.
“The civil unions bill harms Israel’s basic Jewish values,” Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said. “I will use all my power to make sure this bill falls immediately.”
MK Yoni Chetboun called the bill “a dangerous initiative that will lead to a binational state made up of a Jewish nation and a civil nation.”
Chetboun added that the proposal calls into question Bayit Yehudi’s previously close partnership with Yesh Atid.
The Likud party is also unlikely to support a civil union bill. Yisrael Beytenu has supported civil unions in the past, but a party spokesman declined comment Tuesday.
Also highlighting strains in the coalition, Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit pointed out that he submitted a civil union bill earlier this year, which was rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation with the help of Yesh Atid’s votes against it.
“You can’t block bills by another party in the ministerial committee and then submit a similar one and make such declarations,” Sheetrit stated.
Unlike Yesh Atid’s version of the civil union bill, Sheetrit’s proposal would apply only to those who cannot be married by the rabbinate, such as samesex couples or people of two different religions.
Sheetrit plans to bring his bill back to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, long before Lavie and Calderon’s will be voted on.
In the opposition, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On accused Yesh Atid of superficiality.
“Freedom of marriage in Israel will not exist as long as religion and state are not separated,” Gal-On said. “Lapid’s stance, which opposes a separation of religion and state, explains why Yesh Atid is hiding behind words like ‘civil union’ instead of promoting civil marriage and divorce in Israel. Meretz is the only party today that supports separating religion and state.”
UTJ MK Ya’acov Asher accused Lapid of proposing the civil unions bill because recent polls show his party getting half of the 19 seats it has in the current Knesset.
“The finance minister is looking for a way to escape the situation he’s in, so once again he uses his old weapon and submits a bill he knows won’t pass because the Bayit Yehudi won’t allow it. But it’s worth it for him to have us discuss this bill, so that there will be fighting between religious and secular people, and that smoke screen will lead the public to forget his failures and how unprofessional he is,” Asher said.