Knesset yes to civil marriage

The Knesset has authorised civil marriage in Israel for the first time.

The law will allow for only a very limited form of civil marriage, specifically for people whose religious identity is not determined.

The new law, introduced by MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, will allow Israeli citizens whose religious status is unclear - usually due to the fact that the Rabbinate does not recognise them as Jews - to marry through a new civil registrar's office.

At least 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not recognised as Jews according to the Rabbinate, but the new law will only help them if they are getting married to a partner with similar status.

Mr Rotem said after the vote that "this is an historic day, we have succeeded in cracking the wall that existed for 62 years".

He acknowledged that the situation was still unsatisfactory "but we can't continue with an attitude of all-or-nothing, which has achieved only nothing".

Until now, marriage in Israel is recognised only if performed by an Orthodox rabbi or official of another recognised religion. The new law passed 56-4 and the Charedi MKs of Shas and United Torah Judaism, who are against any civil marriage, were absent from the vote.

As coalition members, they could not oppose the vote because it had been agreed upon in the coalition agreement between Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud.

Civil rights groups have attacked the new law saying that it is a "joke" since it does not allow Israelis who do not want to have a religious wedding to marry and solves the problem only for a small fraction of couples.

    Last updated: 4:40pm, March 18 2010