Israeli Civil Court Grants Gay Divorce

In a landmark legal decision just issued in a Tel Aviv family law court, a judge has granted an order of divorce for a same-sex couple that married in Canada.  Divorces are generally granted only by religious courts in Israel, and the civil family court usually only steps in for interfaith straight couples that married overseas, since they are unable to get married (or, until recently, divorced) in Israel.  Jewish couples – even those that married in the United States or elsewhere – still have to go through the rabbinical courts to obtain a divorce.

Several years ago the Supreme Court in Israel ruled that the government was required to register same-sex couples as married, if they got married overseas, though it was uncertain as to what that registration really meant.  For the most part these couples were not given all of the rights of married couples directly, as a married couple, though most of them were treated as equivalent to married, as cohabitating couples.  But it’s been a rocky road for many such couples, with different government agencies and courts treating them unequally.

The judge’s logic in this case was simple.  He based his ruling on two key points: first, if the government was going to register a same-sex couple that married overseas as a married couple, then they were required to register their divorce as well.  If they refused to do that, then the couple would be married unto eternity – and never again be acknowledged as two single individuals.  Second, it was seen as inherent in the court’s equitable powers to grant the divorce, as something that is only fair for the couple.

What’s most interesting here is who was involved in this case.  Uzi Even, the petitioner, was the successful claimant in a variety of gay rights cases in Israel, involving security clearances, military benefits, and adoption.  Perhaps it is only fitting that he would also be the ground-breaking claimant in a divorce case, demonstrating most dramatically that the right to a divorce is truly one of the essential “benefits” of marriage.

Thanks to Judith Meisels, the attorney who brought the case on Uzi’s behalf.  She is one of the best family lawyers in private practice in Israel, and she has persevered in her representation of lesbian and gay couples in their quest for equality under the law, with regard to marriage, surrogacy and parenting, and now divorce.

But before anyone concludes that the legal issue of access to civil divorce is resolved for all purposes, it’s important to keep in mind that most likely this decision will be appealed – or alternatively, the government may defy the court’s order and force the petitioner to file an appeal. Thus, it will likely be several years before the Supreme Court of Israel rules on this issue — and the outcome is far from certain.  One final note: ironically, this decision on behalf of a gay couple could pave the way for straight couples to obtain civil divorces, something that Jewish couples have been unable to obtain so far.  It would truly be terrific if a gay activist couple ended up helping to extend civil legal rights to straight non-religious couples in Israel!

For more information on the case check out: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/court-grants-divorce-to-gay-couple-for-first-time-in-israeli-history.premium-1.481951

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