State Attorney's Office refuses to accept the defeat

In the Legal Trenches: The State Appeals Marriage Rulings

After resounding victories in the Administrative Courts the State Attorney's Office refused to accept the defeat and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court challenging the rulings ordering registration of Utah “zoom weddings” and requested that their implementation be delayed.

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On November 3rd, the State Attorney's Office filed an appeal and a request to delay the implementation of the ruling by the Jerusalem Administrative Court approximately two months ago regarding "Utah marriages". Hiddush for Freedom of Religion and Equality filed a petition, in reply to which the court ruled that the Population Authority and the Ministry of the Interior must register as married any couple who get married as part of a "Utah marriage". This is a marriage ceremony conducted via video conferencing with a marriage officiant in the state of Utah in the USA and has already enabled thousands of couples from all over the world to get married in their place of residence - including approximately 600 couples from Israel. Hiddush filed a petition on behalf of eight couples who were married in Utah marriages but whom the Population Authority (acting on orders of the then Minister of the Interior, Rabbi Aryeh Deri) refused to register as married. The petition was submitted also on behalf of Rabbis Spector and Levinsky from Utah who conducted online marriage ceremonies for Israeli couples.

According to the state, the reasons for the appeal are that the ruling upsets the status quo and takes the long-standing rulings of the Supreme Court regarding registration of overseas civil marriage of Israelis “to a new level” which they claim was not intended, and to which they are opposed. The state attorneys wrote: “The long-standing ruling states that matters of marital and personal status are for the legislator to decide, and based on a broad social consensus... As of today, the lawmaker has not made provisions that allow for civil marriages to be performed in Israel, and this decision should not be emptied of meaning by issuing a ruling that de facto allows for civil marriage in Israel through a foreign country, while the couple is located in Israel and the wedding itself is held in Israel”.

In both cases that are now being appealed, the judges anchored their rulings on the consistent rulings of the Supreme Court regarding the state's obligation to register civil marriages of Israeli couples based on a foreign marriage certificate, and which allowed for very limited discretion of the registry officials to refuse registration. They also pointed to the rapid progress in the world of online meetings, transactions and legal procedures and the revolution it has caused.

It is a shame that the state attorney's office chose to give in to the pressure of the politicians and to ignore the consistent rulings of the Supreme Court for over sixty years.

We cannot but point out the symbolic timing of the appeal being filed the day after elections were held in Israel. It represents an “opening shot” in the struggle for freedom of religion and freedom of marriage, by a government that seeks to limit these freedoms and make it as difficult as possible for them to be realized.

It is a shame that the state attorney's office chose to give in to the pressure of the politicians and to ignore the consistent rulings of the Supreme Court for over sixty years. At every legal juncture on this issue the state has attempted to prevent married people from registering, and each time the Supreme Court has ruled against these attempts. The arguments about the current rulings of the Administrative Courts “taking past precedents to a new level" are not new, and this argument has also been rejected time and again. This is what the state claimed when same-sex couples requested that their marriage be registered, this is what the state claimed when a couple married in a foreign consulate in Tel Aviv [since religious coercion that governs marriage in Israel did not permit them to marry otherwise], and this is what the state claimed when it was requested to register the marriage of spouses who did not leave the country, but whose marriage was conducted in El Salvador through a power of attorney. And this is what the State claimed when a same-sex couple requested registration of their overseas civil marriage. In all the instances in which Israeli citizens were forced to seek solutions to marry abroad, the Supreme Court has not deviated from its ruling. This ruling was intended to respect the right of Israelis to marry despite the policy of Israeli politicians who (at the demand of the religious parties) seek to prevent the citizens of the country from marrying in Israel.

In the appeal, the State Attorney's office cites the consideration of a “broad social consensus”, but this is a cynical reference and bogus claim which ignores the fact that for many years there has been a very broad social consensus (of about two-thirds of the adult Jewish public) for civil and pluralistic marriages in Israel. However, the political horse trade for votes prevents the realization of this broad social consensus and gives the right of veto to an extreme minority that opposes freedom of marriage, a freedom which every other democracy in the world respects. We can only hope that the Supreme Court will remain committed to its past ruling and will reject the attempt to prevent the exercise of basic human freedoms in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and consistent with the rulings of the Court itself.

We submitted a strong objection to the State request for a stay on the implementation of the rulings until the Supreme Court renders its ruling in the future and expect a decision on this motion shortly.

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