A heated debate in Knesset Wednesday ended with the rejection of a bill to recognize the family rights of same-sex couples. The bill, proposed by Knesset’s only openly gay member, Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), was shut down by a vote of 42 to 17.
This is just the latest in a series of controversies in Knesset involving homosexual couples. Last month, a proposed bill to provide tax benefits to same-sex couples created friction between coalition partners Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, when the latter was unwilling to support a bill it worried would change the legal definition of marriage in Israel. The reported compromise between the party chairmen, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, had Bennett’s party allowing the bill to pass preliminary reading only to be buried later in committee.
Meanwhile, same-sex fathers protested this week in front of Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s home in an effort to bring their children into the country. Paid surrogacy is illegal in Israel, and many homosexual couples have turned to Thailand, whose laws are more flexible, to have babies. Now, due to a recent change in Thai law, those babies are not being allowed into Israel, as the Thai government recognizes them as Thai citizens and as the legal offspring of their mothers.
Wednesday’s debate focused on whether same-sex couples should be considered families for legal purposes and whether their disputes, should they arise, should be settled in family court.
“When there are two partners of the same sex, don’t the same complexities exist [as with heterosexual couples]? Is it appropriate to continue legally viewing them as two signatories on a contract who are quarreling?” Horowitz asked the Knesset. “Luckily, the courts administration sends these cases to family courts anyway, but I am still bringing this proposal to the Knesset because there is no law requiring them to do so and no guarantee they will in the future,” he added. He accused Knesset members of fearing the words “same-sex couple,” claiming they were rejecting the bill out of ignorance and cruelty.
Other MKs, however, were indignant about Horowitz’s position. Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach responded: “Why do you think you support this bill for ideological reasons, but we oppose for political reasons? I ideologically oppose recognizing gay couples, and not only old-fashioned people like myself oppose it but also people who are more enlightened than I am.”
On the topic of surrogacy, Orbach accused Horowitz of ignoring the plight of surrogate mothers, who tend to be impoverished and are therefore drawn into what he called a “baby industry.”
“Your righteousness is very limited and your morality is narrow,” Orbach said.
“That is a lie,” Horowitz retorted. “You are brazenly misleading the Knesset. A minister cannot say he is not allowing certain citizens to have rights. There are thousands of gay families in Israel, and we will get recognition for all of them, whether you like it or not.”
Meanwhile, however, the situation remains unchanged.