Court orders registration of gay couples wedded abroad

An Israeli homosexual couple married in Canada told reporters on Tuesday they intended to apply immediately to the Interior Ministry to be registered as "married" in the Population Registry after the High Court of Justice accepted their petition and ordered the ministry to do so. "We are very happy today," said Yosi Ben-Ari, whose married status on the basis of his wedding in Canada, where homosexual marriages are legal, will appear on his identity card from now on. "Three years after our marriage in Toronto and two years after filing this petition, we are happy that the outcome was in our favor," he told reporters at a briefing held by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). ACRI sponsored the first two of five petitions by homosexual couples married abroad, demanding that the Interior Ministry register them as married. The court ordered the ministry to record all five couples. Ben-Ari participated in the briefing with his partner, Laurent Schuman. The other couple whose petition was sponsored by ACRI, Yosef Bar-Lev and Yaron Lahav, also attended the press conference. While both couples said they were happy with the court's decision, they added that there was a long way to go to have their right to equality and freedom of choice recognized by the Israeli public. "This is certainly a moment of satisfaction, especially after what we have been through in the past few weeks with all the displays of ugly homophobia," said ACRI legal adviser Dan Yakir, who is himself a homosexual. "I hope it is a step towards a more tolerant and accepting society which allows every human being to live his life and enjoy full equal rights in Israeli society." A panel of seven High Court justices, headed by retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, ruled unanimously that the Interior Ministry must record the couples as married. Judges have three months after the date of their retirement to complete cases on which they were working. The ruling, in accordance with a 42-year-old judicial principle that states that the Interior Ministry clerk must register the status of applicants, whether they are citizens or new immigrants, as long as the applicant has a public document to prove his claim. In the case of the homosexual couples, each had a marriage certificate issued by the province of Ontario. The state had argued that according to the same judicial principle, the clerk could refuse to record the applicant's claim if it was utterly obvious that he was lying. In the case of the homosexual couples, the clerk was correct in refusing to register them as married because homosexual marriages were not recognized in Israel. The Population Registry recognizes only four kinds of status - single, married, divorced or widowed. These are based on what the state described as "a legal mould." The "legal mould" for marriage is restricted to marriages between men and women, the state maintained. When the Interior Ministry official is confronted with a request by a single-sex couple to be registered as married, it is a request obviously based on a falsehood. But the court rejected the argument, declaring that there were different types of relationships among couples and it was not for an Interior Ministry official to determine by himself which fitted the mould and which did not. Barak, however, insisted that the ruling was essentially a technical matter based on the proper function of the Interior Ministry official. "We are not ruling that Israel recognizes same-sex marriages," wrote Barak. "We are not recognizing a new status for such marriages; we are not taking a position on whether Israel recognizes same-sex marriages conducted abroad." Yakir told The Jerusalem Post that the court's explanation of its decision was theoretical. In practice, homosexual couples will be registered as such in their identity cards, and this will effectively constitute recognition of their marital status and entitle them to the benefits of a married couple. What are these benefits? It turns out that there are not many they do not already enjoy. Until now, homosexual couples have been granted the same rights as common-law couples. Among the few new privileges they will receive as married couples is the right for one of them to change his family name to his partner's immediately after being registered as married and the right of a non-Israeli partner to obtain citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship Law. Asked why it was so important for him to be recognized as married, Bar-Lev said, "It's very, very simply a matter of equality of rights. I think and believe that I am entitled to every right that the state bestows on any other citizen. Whether or not I exercise that right is one thing. But I should have the right. That is very elementary."