Civil union bill faces minefield in vote

Sponsors of bill judge it likely to be defeated in its preliminary reading on the Knesset floor.

Although civil unions were a central plank in the platforms of three out of the four largest parties during the last election campaign, the sponsors of a bill to promote civil marriage judge it likely to be defeated in its preliminary reading on the Knesset floor Wednesday. Israel Beiteinu and Labor both supported civil unions before joining the coalition - with Israel Beiteinu listing it among its five key conditions for joining any government. However, the pressures of keeping a coalition together with Shas and United Torah Judaism - adamant opponents of the practice - have made civil union an issue non grata within the coalition. The current bill is sponsored by MK Shlomo Molla and co-signed by fellow Kadima MKs Robert Tibayev, Yoel Hasson and Nahman Shai, who explained that "in Israel, marriage is exclusively religious. Many of Israel's citizens cannot marry through religious marriage, and this law creates a parallel course entailing parallel rights and responsibilities through which Israeli citizens who so desire can create a joint agreement that does not constitute marriage according to religious law." The bill details the various aspects of the proposed civil unions - from its documentation to its disbanding at the hands of a court or a civil authority. Similar bills were submitted during the previous two Knessets, but both suffered fates similar to the one expected for the bill that will be voted on Wednesday. At least two of the previous bills' sponsors - MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and coalition chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) - are expected to vote together with fellow coalition members against the Kadima legislation. As late as mid-February, Israel Beiteinu stuck to its guns on the issue, but while Kadima announced that it was willing to meet the party's demand for civil unions if it joined a Kadima government, the Likud formed the government and the final coalition agreement with Israel Beiteinu only mentioned the concept in the context of people who cannot legally marry under religious law. In mid-April, Elkin, too, spoke out in favor of the practice for the estimated 300,000 Israelis who have the legal status of "religionless," rendering them unable to legally marry Jews or other "religionless" citizens unless they leave the country for the ceremony. The majority of the citizens in this category are immigrants or the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But despite the nominal support of the coalition chairman and the second-largest party in the government (Israel Beiteinu), the bill failed to pass a vote on Sunday in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation when three Israel Beiteinu representatives - Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch - were absent during the vote. Sources close to Molla expressed incredulity at their absence, noting that the text of Molla's bill was almost identical to that of the one proposed by Rotem in the previous Knesset.