Israel's Supreme Court recognizes foreign same-sex marriages

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Israel's Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Israeli government to recognize foreign-based same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriages legally performed outside Israel will be recognized as full marriages in Israel.

The vote on the ruling was 6-1 with the single no vote coming from a conservative Jew on the bench. The ruling immediately touched off controversy in the conservative and orthodox communities within the nation. Orthodox community leaders had been instrumental in canceling gay pride celebrations last month in Jerusalem.

Lawyers within Israel say the ruling is largely symbolic. Israel already gives gay couples many of the rights of heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court ruling will now allow them to adopt children and gain tax benefits, however.

This latest ruling was the result of a suit brought by five couples at least one of whom had been married in Canada last year when that nation recognized same-sex marriage.

Civil registration of marriages performed outside of Israel has a long history within the country dating back to a Supreme Court decision made in the 1960s. Actual marriage within Israel is overseen by rabbinical authorities under Jewish religious law and so all marriages within Israel are religious in nature. Not only has this been a difficulty when it comes to same-sex marriage, but issues have long been a problem in mixed marriages where one partner is not Jewish, or among people who can't satisfactorily prove their Jewish heritage. The power held by Orthodox leaders in Israel with regard to marriage has been a point of contention in the country with Conservative and Reform sects for years indicating that while from a legal standpoint this latest ruling may be small, it may have far wider ramification in many related areas.

Israel is the first middle-eastern nation to recognize any form of same-sex union, and only the fourth nation in the world to officially recognize same-sex marriages. Israel has recognized same-sex common law marriage since 1994. Homosexual Palestinians often attempt to flee to Israel as they may be tortured or killed by the Palestinian Authority; however, Israel usually does not grant asylum on the basis of sexual orientation.


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