Values without borders

U.S. Supreme Court decision renews call for freedom of marriage in Israel

Hiddush welcomed the United States Supreme Court decision to deem the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Will this historic decision pave the way for civil and non-Orthodox marriage in Israel?

gay marriage Flickrsame-sex marriage credit: Flickr

Hiddush- Freedom of Religion for Israel applauded the United States Supreme Court's historic decision yesterday (26.6.12) to grant same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. They were joined by many Israeli lawmakers who expressed their support for the decision and hope that it will have a positive effect on the Israeli legislature.

Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev emphasized the importance of this decision in the midst of Israel's own struggle for freedom of marriage, not just for same-sex couples, but for all Israeli citizens. "After the United States Supreme Court justices clarified that democratic countries cannot deny their citizens the right to marry, we must hope that Israeli government will not continue to live in the middle ages, held captive by archaic, religious extremists."

Due to Israel's severe restrictions on marriage, there is no option for civil marriage or divorce and citizens can only marry through a recognized religious authority. The religious monopoly on marriage leaves hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens (mainly immigrants from the Former Soviet Union) without any avenue whatsoever to legally marry in Israel. Millions more are forced to marry in a ceremony that is not congruent with their own beliefs or values.

Israel's marriage crisis has moved to the forefront of the Israeli political agenda. Many MKs have expressed their support for civil marriage and see the U.S. Supreme Court decision as a call for marriage equality in Israel as well. “The world is changing before our eyes," said MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). "I call on you, ministers in the Israeli government. Take the right step. Marriage, creating a family- these are basic rights of every human being."

"While we celebrate with our friends in America, we must demand the right for all Israeli citizens to marry and we cannot accept civil unions as a substitute."

MK Horowitz's call for change has been echoed by many including MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), head of the government opposition, who believes that there is an overwhelmingly strong desire for marriage freedom in Israel. "The LGBTQ community in Israel, along with Israeli society…are all eligible to choose between marriage according to Jewish law and civil marriage, including marriage to people of the same gender,” she said.

Hiddush has continuously promoted the issue of freedom of marriage as a vital lifeline for all religious freedom issues in Israel. In April 2013, Hiddush launched the Freedom of Marriage World Map, the only online document that grades 194 countries based on the status of freedom of marriage. On a scale of 0-2, Israel received a "0" for its severe restrictions. The map visually points out Israel's low standing in the company of many of its neighbors in the fundamentalist Islamic world.

Despite the grave picture that the map presents, Rabbi Regev hopes it will help promote freedom of marriage in Israel. Given the current political climate, he believes this is a historic time for marriage freedom in Israel and the government coalition has an opportunity not to be missed. "Will Israel continue to be the only Western Democracy that denies hundreds of thousands of its citizens the right to marry? Regev emphatically asked. "While we celebrate with our friends in America, we must demand the right for all Israeli citizens to marry and we cannot accept civil unions as a substitute."

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