Orthodox politicians have reacted with fury after a court in Israel ruled that secular online weddings must be recognised by the state in a move that could have widespread implications for millions of Israelis.
Judges in the district court of Lod in Central Israel stated that the country's interior ministry must accept the legitimacy of online marriages performed by a local authority in the US state of Utah, even when the couple being married is in Israel.
During the start of the pandemic in 2020, officials in Utah County, Utah opened up online weddings when in-person ceremonies were cancelled due to lockdown restrictions.
The lack of geographical restrictions proved a hit for clerks in the predominantly Mormon state as citizens from countries with restrictive wedding laws rushed to use their services.
In September 2020, a clerk in Provo, Utah told the New York Times: “We have become an international marriage venue completely by accident... But we’re leaning into it.”
Couples in Israel were among the thousands to take advantage of this unique form of wedding, allowing civil ceremonies to be performed between Israelis in Israel for the first time.
Civil ceremonies performed in Israel are not currently recognised, but a 1963 Supreme Court ruling means that foreign ceremonies can be registered legally in Israel.
The only forms of marriage deemed valid by the state are those that conform to religious rules, with Jewish weddings being restricted to couples approved by orthodox laws.
Historically, this has led interfaith couples, non-orthodox Jewish couples, and LGBT couples to seek their nuptials outside of Israel, with some even resorting to boats off the coast to get married in international waters.
But the emergence of the Utah county service, for the first time, allowed couples previously blocked from recognised marriages in Israel to wed.
Soon after the Utah loophole gain popularity, Israel's Haredi political party Shas, who controlled the Israeli Interior Ministry, froze wedding registrations from Utah in the summer of 2020, and were subsequently sued by Israeli civil rights groups.
The ruling in Lod in favor of allowing the Utah marriages was in response to a lawsuit filed by several couples who had taken advantage of the procedure to wed.
In the ruling, which upheld the validity of the weddings, the judge said: “When it became clear that the marriage certificate confirms that the applicants were married in a ceremony recognized by the State of Utah, and that the certificate was issued by an authority authorized to do so, the clerk should have been instructed to carry out the registration,”
High-profile Israelis that got married in the online ceremonies include junior foreign affairs minister Idan Roll and his husband Harel Skaat.
According to the Times of Israel, several religious groups are planning to appeal the ruling. MK Avi Maoz of the Religious Zionist Party, said: “It is unthinkable for judges in the State of Israel to undermine the Jewish state... We will fix this soon, God willing.”