Israeli gay rights advocates hail US state's marriage decision

Dozens of same-sex couples wed as ruling takes effect.

Israeli advocates for same-sex marriage welcomed with cautious optimism Monday's historic ruling in the state of California to allow gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot in formal wedding ceremonies. "In general, we are very pleased with this decision," Irit Rosenblum, director of the New Family organization, which champions the rights of Israelis to establish marriages or unions outside of the traditional system, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "It is a sign of recognition by society, and that's excellent. While I don't believe that there will be sudden rush of Israelis traveling to California to get married, globalization means that [those struggling with the system here] see that they're not alone in this issue." Currently, the Chief Rabbinate presides over matters of marriage and divorce for all Jewish citizens of Israel and family issues are evaluated according to Jewish law. As such, same-sex marriages are not recognized by the rabbinate, although recent civic legislation has determined that gay and lesbian couples married abroad can be officially registered as partners in the Interior Ministry's Population Registry. "I think we need to use this decision as an opportunity to remember the lack of rights people have here," commented Yonatan Gur, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House, the capital's center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) residents. "The whole issue of marriage is currently monopolized by the rabbinate, and for those who want to get married in a [non-Orthodox] religious ceremony, it is a huge problem." However, Gur did stress the Interior Ministry's progress in recognizing same-sex couples married abroad. The California ruling would only reinforce that, he said. Meanwhile, in California, dozens of gay couples were married Monday after the historic ruling, which made California the second US state to allow same-sex nuptials, went into effect. At least five county clerks around the state extended their hours to issue marriage licenses, and many same-sex couples got married on the spot. "These are not folks who just met each other last week and said, 'Let's get married.' These are folks who have been together in some cases for decades," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "They are married in their hearts and minds, but they have never been able to have that experience of community and common humanity." The big rush to the altar in the US's most populous state was not expected until Tuesday, which is when most counties planned to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of couples from around the country are expected to seize the opportunity to make their unions official in the eyes of the law. Local officials are now required to issue licenses that have the words "Party A" and "Party B" where "bride" and "groom" used to be. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom, who helped launch the series of lawsuits that led the court to strike down California's one-man-one-woman marriage laws, presided at the wedding of lesbian rights activists Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84. Well-wishers cheered when they emerged outside Newsom's office after the ceremony. Dozens of couples gathered outside the clerks offices in Alameda, Sonoma and Yolo counties, where hours were extended to accommodate gay couples who wanted to be among the first to marry. Derek Norman, 23 and Robert Blaudow, 39, from Memphis, were in the Bay Area for a conference and decided to get married at the Alameda County clerk's office. "We might wait a long time in Tennessee, so this is our chance," Blaudow said. First in line to pick up a marriage license in Sonoma was Melanie Phoenix, 47, and Terry Robinson, 48, of Santa Rosa. They have been together for almost 26 years and plan to be wed in August. "It's an historic occasion," Phoenix said. "I never believed it was really possible until Gavin Newsom took the first step in 2004."