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    Local gays envy Brits

    Israeli same-sex couples hope liberal British legislation sign of things to come here too

    Britain's gay community has never been prouder: Hundreds of homosexual and lesbian couples - including celebrity Elton John and his fiance David Furnish - officially celebrated Britain's new same-sex law enabling them to officially register as couples.


    However, in Israel there were those who watched the celebrations with envy, in the hope that one day Israel adopts similar legislation.


    "It's true that it does not mean they are married, but it is an additional step in the right direction," Tel Aviv city council member Itay Pinkas said. Pinkas recently married his partner in Canada, where same-sex marriages are legal.


    "Most countries that legislated same-sex (unions) passed through stages along the way. What is most important is that civil rights are granted," he said.


    Israel's current laws do not allow for same-sex marriages, with only a few countries that do. However, many countries, like Britain, are advancing in the direction of growing recognition of same-sex couples.


    Like other civil marriages abroad, which Israel recognizes as legally-biding, Pinkas and his partner Yoav Arad hoped their Canadian marriage would be acknowledged by the State.


    However, the Interior Ministry refused to accept the marriage and at present the couple is waiting for their appeal – filed with several other couples – to be deliberated by the High Court of Justice.


    Guarded optimism


    While the law does not recognize same-sex marriages, there has been an improvement in their status in recent years here.


    Surprisingly, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel's annual report for 2005 noted substantial progress, with same-sex couples are now eligible for survivor benefits and inheritance.


    However, despite progress in certain aspects, Israel still refuses to register gay couples as married.


    Pinkas said that after appealing to the High Court, Justice Aharon Barak decided to expand the panel of judges set to rule on the case.


    "I believe it is for our benefit. High Court judges like most citizens have no reason to discriminate against certain communities," Pinkas said. "Nearly everywhere religion manages to stir trouble, like in Israel. As a matter of fact, it's not religion insomuch as the religious institution and religious go-getters."


    "In Israel the problem is more severe because citizens can't marry outside of the religious framework. But I believe it to will come to an end. The problem in Israel is far from affecting only homosexuals and lesbians. There are those who don't want God or religion in the picture when they get married. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time until the rabbinate will be just a place where it is possible to get married,” he said.


    Meanwhile, Pinkas is optimistic about Britain's influence over Israel.


    "I believe the course here is clear. We're glad that as a society there is much progress regarding human rights. If Israel wants to be similar to other Western countries, it needs to be clear that it must provide equal rights for all citizens," he said.


    Tal Rosner contributed to the report


    פרסום ראשון: 12.22.05, 09:28
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    Elton John and his partner
    Photo: AP