Hitched without a hitch

Avi and Benyamin Rose become Jerusalem's first gay couple registered as married by the Interior Ministry.

gays 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gays 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like many new Anglo immigrants, Talpiot residents Avi and Benyamin Rose have their tale to tell of the infamous bureaucracy of the Interior Ministry - but theirs has a twist. On Monday the two men, originally from Canada and Britain, became the first same-sex couple in Jerusalem to have the ministry record them in the Population Registry as married, and have that status marked on their respective Israeli Identity Cards. The homosexual couple tied the knot at New City Hall in Toronto, Canada on June 28 of 2006. Since same-sex marriages were legalized in 2003 in Ontario, the wedding chapel at Toronto's municipal building has become the gay and lesbian parallel to a quickie wedding in Las Vegas; unlike other jurisdictions that permit same-sex nuptials, in Ontario neither party has to have residency status to get legally married. The result has been a flood of same-sex couples, including Israelis, flying to the Lake Ontario metropolis to formalize and legalize their commitments. Among them was former Member of Knesset Uzi Even, the first openly homosexual Knesset member and an outspoken gay rights activist, who married Amit Kama, his partner of 19 years, in a 2004 civil ceremony there. That same year Doug Hauer and Jack Gilad - Israelis living in Boston, Massachusetts, who were among the first homosexual couples to marry after Ontario legalized gay and lesbian marriages, unsuccessfully tried to register their marriage at the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. As a result, five couples (not including the Roses) petitioned Israel's High Court seeking that the Interior Ministry recognize their marriages just as it does heterosexual civil unions performed in Cyprus or elsewhere. A panel of seven justices, headed by now-retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, ruled unanimously in November that those marriages must be recognized by the state. The Roses were the first couple to implement that historic ruling in Jerusalem. That involved three visits to the Interior Ministry and two trips to the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, they said. According to the couple, part of the difficulty had to do with the Interior Ministry clerks being unfamiliar with the novel procedure. However some of the rigmarole involved more mundane bureaucracy. Since the Ontario wedding licenses aren't affixed with an apostille (an official ribbon and embossed seal), the clerks insisted that the couple get an affidavit from the Canadian Embassy confirming the document's legality. Armed with that letter - which cost them NIS 800 in embassy fees - the Roses returned to the downtown main office of the Interior Ministry on Rehov Shlomzion Hamalka on Monday morning. "We expected the usual - screaming, yelling and waiting in line," said Avi, a 42-year-old instructor with the Young Judea youth movement who was born in New York, grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, and moved to Israel in 2002. "The truth is they remembered us. There was an issue with the red stamp that was missing. They had never done it, and didn't know what to do. Finally they just crossed out 'wife' and wrote 'ben zug' [spouse]," he noted. Fortuitously Benyamin n Todd, 32 - who was born in London and worked as a social worker before coming on aliya in August shortly after their civil marriage and huppa - had already changed his last name to Rose when he initially immigrated. This saved one bureaucratic step when he and Avi had their status revised to married. "They were just so down to earth," Avi said of the Interior Ministry clerks. "It was new for them, and they were being stretched. They said 'mazal tov', and wished us much happiness." "They were genuinely interested in us," Benyamin added. "We didn't do this as a publicity stunt," explained Avi, noting that he and his partner are inherently private people. "We don't see ourselves as anything unusual. We're two people who met, fell in love, got engaged and then married." Their marriage under a huppa the day after their civil ceremony "has a holiness to it," he insisted. "We went to the mikve before we got married." At home the couple keeps Shabbat and kashrut. But being gay in Jerusalem is not so straightforward. On Monday after achieving his historic breakthrough at the Interior Ministry, Benyamin showed up late at Ulpan Morasha where he is studying Hebrew five mornings a week. He learns at the Conservative Yeshiva in the afternoon as well. Sensitive to homophobia, especially after the riots and demonstrations against last fall's abortive Gay Pride Parade, he was unsure with which of his classmates he could share his achievement. Wearing tzitzit and a kippa in London, he said, he was spat at, sworn at and stared at - incidents which drove him to make aliya. But the anti-gay hysteria in Jerusalem this past summer and fall made the couple question their decision to settle in Jerusalem. "It felt like we were living in a place where people thought we were unacceptable as Jews and even as human beings," said Avi. "My grandparents went through all this in Germany - being made to feel unsafe, and comparisons to animals." "We're just a couple," he insisted. "We're two human beings. And that's the bottom line."