The religious status quo that has given Orthodox rabbinic authorities control over marriage and other family laws since the creation of the state of Israel has been weakened in the last few months — and a former Atlanta couple has played a role in one of those court decisions.
In June, the Israeli government ruled that Neta Cohen and Meital Gutman, the parents of two children and former members of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, could both be recognized as the parents, rather than just Gutman, who had given birth to the children in the U.S. via sperm donation.
According to an email sent by Amy Price to congregation members, “When they moved to Israel with their two boys, the government would not recognize both of them as their parents. This is despite both being on their birth certificates, which is all straight couples need to show to be recognized.
They challenged the government in court and WON!!! They are the first LGBTQ family in Israel to be recognized using a birth certificate alone and future families who move will also only need to show a birth certificate, rather than needing to go through adoption or a court proceeding. They fought this discrimination against LGBTQ families for their family, and other children and future LGBTQ families, to create a more equal and welcoming society.”
About a month later, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a non-biological parent who has been granted parenthood status by court order cannot be deprived of this status after the couple separates, according to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The ruling was considered another success for LGBTQ parents.
“Our ruling will convey a clear message that parenthood status conferred by the court is not just a cloak that the parents can doff after their couplehood has withered,” the ruling stated. “This is a fundamental act intended to protect the rights of both parents, as it protects the welfare of the child, with the entire arc of parental obligations involved.”
Lawyers who represented the non-biological parents in two cases involving same-sex couples called the ruling “another important step on the way to full LGBTQ parenthood.”
Notably, in his election campaign launch on Aug. 1, Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed to pass a civil marriage law and give legal status to single-sex families. Israeli elections for the next government are scheduled for Nov. 1.
The country’s religious status quo was actually a political understanding between religious and secular political parties not to alter the agreement in relation to religious matters. This dictated, for instance, that marriages could only be conducted in rabbinical courts for Jews, and by the relevant religious authorities for members of other faiths, including Islam and Christianity. There is no civil marriage in Israel.
This fact has led thousands of Israeli couples to marry outside the country over the decades, oftentimes close by, in Cyprus, returning to Israel with a foreign marriage certificate that would then be recognized by the Israeli government.
But even this exception to the status quo has been toppled — by the COVID-19 pandemic, no less — in the past few weeks. Couples who planned to marry abroad but could not travel due to COVID restrictions wed through an online civil marriage service under the auspices of the state of Utah. An Israeli district court just ruled that the Israeli Interior Ministry is obligated to register those couples as married.
This ruling was considered a de facto victory for advocates of civil marriage because it circumvents the political roadblock, making civil marriage available to all Israelis domestically. However, the Orthodox political parties still object to civil marriage in the country because they believe that this would sanction interfaith marriages and other unions prohibited by Jewish law.
Unlike most of the government coalitions that have been formed over the past decades, the current coalition does not include any of the ultra-Orthodox parties. But all of this could all change in the upcoming elections, depending on which parties receive the most votes and then agree to sit in a coalition with the other parties.