The civil marriage bill passed its first Knesset reading Monday night. The motion was carried 22 to three, with one Knesset member abstaining.
The bill, brought before the House by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, is meant to find a solution which would allow non-denomination couples in Israel – i.e. those who have no clear religious affiliation – to marry.
Should the bill mature into a law it would apply to Israeli citizens or those who have permanent residency status. It would also serve to resolve the matrimonial hurdle faced by about a fifth of all former Soviet Union immigrants, who cannot marry under Orthodox law since the Judaism is in question.
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Ne'eman's proposal, formulated as part of the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, proposes a special magistrate be appointed to oversee a marriage registry which would be formed in order to cater to the needs of non-Jewish couples.
The majority of Knesset members said that the proposed bill does little to truly resolve the need for civil marriage, and some expressed concern over the need to continue having the Orthodox authorities rule on who can be defined is non-denomination.
'Two steps forward, three steps back'
Knesset Member David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) who initiated the original civil marriage bill, said Monday that while Ne'eman's proposal vastly differs from his, "And does not solve the problem in its entirety, it is still worth passing this bill if it will allow even one couple to marry."
MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima), however, said that "we would like to see the children and grandchildren of these immigrants be a part of the Jewish people, but we are perpetuating an unworthy situation in order to uphold a coalition agreement which may make things easier for couples, but it makes things harder for the State."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel added that the bill reminded him "of a dance, where you take two steps forward and three steps back… I understand Minister Ne'eman's need to deal with everyone, but in this case, getting the job half done will result in all of us finding ourselves in a much more serious situation. We were never as afraid of the gentiles as we are of the rabbinical establishment."
Cable's Labor fellow MK Ophir Pines-Paz wondered aloud whether "the seculars in Israel would ever get to enjoy civil marriage"; while Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron said that "this bill isn’t even the camel which is a horse designed by committee – it is a monster designed by the zealousness and rigidness of the rabbinical establishment."
MK Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Likud faction, remained optimistic: "I believe we will be able to find a formula which would unite the House in this matter. The majority of those classified as 'nationless' are so because they do not know what their religion is.
"Should this bill, which Yisrael Beiteinu calls 'historic,' pass, all non-denomination couple would be eligible for all matrimonial rights."