Weakening the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on recognizing marriage, Tel Aviv is easing recognition of same-sex and intermarried couples, as well as others not formally married through the rabbinate, for municipal-service and tax purposes. Lod and Mevaseret Zion have already done the same, and other cities may soon follow suit. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality has agreed to recognize new "partnership cards" issued by the New Family organization. The wallet-sized cards are a formal document signed by the couple before a witnessing attorney that proves the relationship is legally binding under the rubric of "yeduim betzibur," or common-law relationships - an increasingly popular, though not clearly legally defined, status among Israeli couples who wish to marry outside the auspices of the rabbinate. Estimates place the number of unrecognized couples as high as 40 percent of Israeli households, with some 18,000 same-sex couples, 250,000 couples that include at least one FSU immigrant who is not Jewish and therefore cannot marry in any legal framework in Israel, and growing numbers of Jewish Israelis who refuse to marry either through the rabbinate or by obtaining marriage certificates overseas. "The status of yeduim betzibur is recognized in over 20 laws for all sorts of purposes," explained attorney Irit Rosenblum, founder and chair of New Family. The problem lies in the paperwork, since couples have no way to prove this status. It is often only formally recognized in unpleasant situations such as divorce or death, when a judge must declare the status existed in order to divide assets or rule on inheritance. The partnership card initiative, begun in 2007, aims to correct some of the bureaucratic lacunae that these couples experience, such as one partner's inability to get a municipal parking permit for the other, or the difficulty of trying to qualify for a "couples discount" at municipal events and classes. "First, the couple has to sign a legal contract that details their rights and responsibilities in their shared life, and the card, which is signed in front of a lawyer, declares legally that the two people are parties to this contract," says Rosenblum. "It transforms their relationship from a 'normative' one - a common-law one - to a contractual one." Technically, the move is a very small one. "In any case, a municipality can't refuse to recognize the card," says Rosenblum, "since it's a legal document signed before a lawyer" that affirms a contract. But the gap between legal rights and bureaucratic implementation can be great, and the new initiative looks to bridge that gap. "A lot of rights in this country are not yet granted equally," claims Etai Pinkas, a Tel Aviv city councilman who advises Mayor Ron Huldai on gay-lesbian issues. "Now the municipality has taken it upon itself to do everything in its power to grant equality." With Tel Aviv the third city - after Lod and Mevaseret Zion - to promise to recognize the partnership cards, Pinkas is confident that "it's only a matter of time before this spreads to a lot of other cities."