Tel Aviv City Hall is planning to become the first Israeli local authority to independently register residents as couples, which allow the city to recognise same-sex relationships officially.
By Israeli law, the only marriages performed in the country that are officially recognised by the state are those carried out by religious authorities.
For Jews, this means only those performed by Orthodox rabbis. Same-sex couples have managed to win limited rights in the courts, if they were married abroad or are living in a common-law marriage.
This means those in same-sex relationships cannot usually access municipal services as couples, since local authorities rely on the Interior Ministry’s population register, which does not recognise their partnerships. The new initiative in Tel Aviv seeks to bypass this, by registering couples at a municipal bureaucratic level for the first time.
Ittay Pinkas-Arad, the city council member in charge of LGBT affairs, explained: “Tel Aviv-Jaffa is saying for the first time clearly that equality is a basic municipal value and the new city registration service means that all couples in the city have equal rights.”
Tel Aviv is one of a group of local authorities in central Israel which last year challenged the right-wing-religious coalition and launched a public transport service on Shabbat. This is a second major challenge to the status quo on state and religion. Until now the Orthodox state rabbinate has had a monopoly on personal-status matters, through its exclusive powers to perform marriage and divorce.
The Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the Strictly Orthodox Shas party responded in a curt statement saying that: “The registration law in Israel clearly states that the authorised body is the population and emigration authority and not this or that local authority,” adding that “couples should be aware that the (Tel Aviv) registration has no legal meaning as far as state institutions are concerned.”