Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty" passed by the Knesset in 1992, "All persons have the right to privacy and to intimacy." I would have assumed that this law also grants Israeli citizens the freedom to marry whom they choose. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Leaving aside the question of who should have the authority to perform Jewish wedding ceremonies in the State of Israel, which is a problem in itself, does the law of the land allow "religion-less" Israelis to marry?
This week, Israel’s High Court of Justice stated that it would not accede to a petition filed by the Forum for Free Marriage in Israel against the Israeli government. The forum’s 12 member organizations claimed that the State of Israel is legally obligated to allow civil marriage for those who cannot marry in a religious ceremony. The current situation, according to the forum, gravely violates basic constitutional rights of Israel’s citizens.
“We recognize the problem and we are also sympathetic to it,” stated Court President Dorit Beinisch on behalf of the High Court. “But the question is, what can be done [by the court] to help here?”
As reported in the press, Beinisch insisted that only legislative action could deal with the issue, not judicial involvement.
In March, 2010, the Knesset passed a law that enabled a couple in which both partners are defined as being “without religious status” to register in a civil partnership. However, this law has not assisted the majority of cases which include one partner who is Jewish.
In July this year, the Knesset rejected a bill initiated by Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), which would have legalized civil marriage in Israel. The bill was aimed at allowing Israelis to choose between civil or religious marriage.
According to a study conducted this past summer by Dr. Guy Ben-Porat and Dr. Yariv Feniger of Ben-Gurion University, two-thirds of the Jewish population in Israel are in favor of civil marriage, but only one-third would choose non-religious marriage if they had the option.
In response to this week’s statements by the High Court, the forum withdrew the petition so as not have it rejected outright.
“We’re very disappointed, but we don’t intend to give up,” said Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). “Our petition was an attempt to help real people who have real needs. Hundreds of thousands of people legally cannot get married in Israel and this is very unjust.”
To those unfamiliar with the reality in Israel, the status quo only allows for marriages to be conducted through religious authorities, which in the case of Jews is the Chief Rabbinate (Orthodox). There is no allowance for interfaith marriages or the possibility for a couple to wed officially in a civil ceremony.