Israel: Pro-gay civil marriage bill defeated in Knesset

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A bill aimed at blocking discrimination on religious grounds and allowing for civil marriage regardless of race, sex, citizenship, and religion, has been defeated in Israel.

The Freedom of Religion and Conscience Bill, sponsored by Knesset member Zahava Gal-on of the Meretz party, was rejected by a 56 to 21 margin in its preliminary reading in the Knesset this week.

The bill was submitted as a Basic Law, one of a set of laws that form the constitutional underpinning for Israeli legislation.

Speaking of her disappointment, Zahava Gal-on said: “Israel has undergone many crises as a result of the existing vagueness in this area.”

She added: “The lack of clear boundaries between the public realm and the realm of freedom of conscience and religion threatens the viability of Israel as a democratic state as well as its Jewish character.”

The Times of Israel reports before the vote, Ms Gal-on criticised Finance Minister Yair Lapid who she claimed avoided the larger issues facing the LGBT community. She commented on Ms Lapid’s dogged pursuit of equal tax credits for same-sex male couples, which passed its first reading in the Knesset earlier on Monday.

“We were witnesses earlier to a farce,” Ms Gal-on said. “The finance minister lied to the Knesset and is avoiding answering. Instead of addressing the problem in its entirety, [they] address tax benefits.”

At present, Israeli law provides better tax breaks for mothers rather than fathers. Male same-sex couples are adversely affected as they are entitled to lower tax breaks than heterosexual couples, where the female partner can claim the higher tax credits.

Same-sex marriages are recognised in Israel, but must be conducted overseas as only the religious authorities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze can perform marriages, and none offer gay couples the chance to marry.

Like mixed faith straight couples, gay couples must marry in another country such as France or Canada, but once they do, they are recognised as a married couple in the Jewish state.

In May 2012, the Israeli Parliament voted against introducing civil marriage for gay and straight couples.