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State to register marriage of same-sex couples

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

November 21, 2006

In a precedent setting ruling this morning, an expanded panel of 7 Supreme Court Justices ordered the state to register the marriage of same-sex couples who marry outside Israel


In a precedent setting ruling this morning, the Supreme Court ordered the state to register the marriage of same-sex couples who marry outside Israel. The ruling was issued by a majority of six Justices from an expanded panel of seven, in response to two petitions that were submitted by ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, Dan Yakir, and Adv. Yonatan Berman (as well as 3 other petitions that were submitted at a later stage), in the name of two male couples who were married in Canada, but were denied services by officials of the Population Registrar who refused to change their official registration status from “single” to “married”.

Yossi Ben-Ari, 52, designs the theatrical sets and costumes. His partner, Laurent Schuman, 42, is a literary translator from Hebrew to French, who among other things translated the stories of Shai Agnon and S.Yizhar. He emigrated from France, and became a citizen in 1993. The couple met in 1985, and after a period of two years moved in together. They have since lived together as a family unit and run a joint household. The second couple consists of Joseph Bar Lev, (39) who teaches folk dancing, and Yaron Lahav (29) a fitness coach. They met in 1998, and after a few months began living together, and have since led a full family life and run a joint household. Both couples were legally married in Toronto in 2003 with fully validated marriage certificates that were authorized by the Israeli Counsel in Toronto. When ACRI submitted a formal application to the Population Registrar on behalf of the first couple to request that their registered status be changed from “single” to “married”, the couple encountered numerous and lengthy delays, until they were finally notified that “marriages of this kind (the marriage of same-sex couples) are not considered legally valid by the State of Israel, and thus cannot be recorded in the registry as requested”. When ACRI made a similar appeal on behalf of the second couple, they were provided with the following reply with unusual alacrity, “as you well know no changes in personal status are registered for same-sex couples in Israel”.

Attorneys Yakir and Berman made clear in the petition, that the refusal of the Population Registrar to change the personal details of the petitioners contravenes the legal obligation of a registration clerk to register changes in the personal status of anyone who presents them with validated certification of these changes. As dictated by the Population Registry Law, and in accordance with the Punk Shlazinger ruling that was issued by the Supreme Court more than 40 years ago, which has reinforced by subsequent rulings over the following years. This ruling, that resulted from the Population Registrar’s refusal to register the marriage of a Christian woman to a Jewish man who were married outside the country, determined absolutely that the Population Registrar clerks are obligated to change the official status of a couple who married outside the country, and that this should not be dependent upon any internal discussion as to its domestic validity. Attorney Yakir further emphasized that the Population Registrar had no authority to decide on the validity of the marriage, and its response to the petitioners was nothing more than an attempt by the registrar to assume judicial authority that was never legally transferred to them.

Attorneys Yakir and Berman also laid special emphasis on the fact that the Population Registrar’s policy of disregarding their legal obligation to register same sex couples, when, for example, it registers couples of different religions, Cohens and divorcees, contravenes the right to equality. The registrars’ actions conveys a humiliating message that a relationship comprised of two men or two women is not considered to be “normative”, and is also considered to be of such a low status as to render it unsuitable for the rules that apply to heterosexual couples. Such acts determine that the warmth and sense of union that exists between the petitioners is not worthy of recognition, and that their decision to tie their mutual fates together is meaningless. The individuals also have to contend with a profound sense of humiliation and a severe undermining of their sense of dignity, solely because of their inclusion in a particular social group. The refusal by the Population Registrar, the petition adds, represents a violation of the right to family life, as it is based on their defined status and their sexual orientation, and conveys a message of de-legitimization of gay and lesbian couples, and defines them as a family that is “lacking” or “of a lower status”, or even as a “non-family”. Thus the message that is transmitted to the general public is that in the case of gays or lesbians, the family unit is so different that it is not worthy of the same protections, or not even of the same procedural arrangements, that any two adults who decide to establish a family are entitled to.

The petitions further stated that just as it is unacceptable to permit discrimination on the basis of an individual’s inclusion in an ethnic or national grouping that is defined by racist perceptions prevalent in our society; and just as there can be no acceptance of discrimination against women that is based on pervasive patriarchal attitudes; there can also be no tolerance of discrimination against same-sex couples resulting from societal homophobia.

ENDS

ACRI’s website: www.acri.org.il

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