Civil unions law to be implemented next week

Knesset approves civil marriage registration fee; Initiator MK David Rotem pledges to lobby for civil union option to become available to everyone.

Jewish wedding 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski (illustrative))
Jewish wedding 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski (illustrative))
The Knesset Law Committee on Wednesday approved an NIS 600 registration fee for individuals who want a civil marriage, paving the way for the implementation of the law allowing the procedure in the next few days.
The law will permit non-Jewish Israelis, or citizens defined by the state as lacking religious denomination, to have a civil marriage and be recognized as a married couple.
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Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who initiated the legislation, said after the committee’s meeting that the law solves a problem for thousands of non- Jewish Israeli citizens who until now could not marry legally in Israel and had to travel to Cyprus or other countries to do so.
“This is the first step to solving one problem, but I intend to see this proposed law through to its conclusion, as laid out to the Knesset. I intend to ask for the civil union to be extended to any person who desires it, not just those without an officially defined religion,” said Rotem.
The original bill proposed by Rotem had called for establishing the option of a civil marriage for all Israelis. However, he was forced to back down from his grand plan because of opposition from the haredi parties in the coalition.
Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Conservative Movement, said in response to the Knesset’s decision Wednesday, “Not with ease, but in honesty, we wish to congratulate MK David Rotem on the Law Committee’s decision this morning.
The fact that in the State of Israel there is now an official role to manage the registration of civil marriages will pave the way for – and for this we are fighting – an expansion of the civil unions law to include all those who wish to marry [via an artery] other than through the Chief Rabbinate.
“Currently, and absurdly, only those who can show a certificate saying that they are ‘without denomination’ can benefit from the law, but we will fight to change this. I’m not sure if he meant to do it, but MK Rotem built the framework for the establishment of civil marriage in Israel,” said Hess.
The Knesset passed the law in March. However, it could only go into effect after the committee approved the regulations for the law, which it did on Wednesday.
Opponents of the measure have expressed concern that it would increase the power of the Chief Rabbinate, since it would grant the Rabbinate the right to determine whether an Israeli citizen who claimed he was “without religion” actually was without a religion.
The bill applies only to couples, both of whom are classified as without a religion. It will affect only a small percentage of those who do not want a religious wedding officiated by a rabbi. In Israel, only Orthodox rabbis may officiate at weddings for Jewish Israelis, and both husband and wife must be Jewish.
Currently, Israelis may only have their civil marriage recognized in Israel if the marriage took place overseas – in which case, the couple then applies for recognition to the Interior Ministry when the two partners return to Israel. Even so, such marriages are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
Jonah Mandel and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.