gay pride parade Israel 200x300 Israeli Government Rejects Marriage EqualitySad news out of the Middle East: the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, voted 39-11 yesterday to reject a bill that would have allowed same-sex and interfaith couples to marry.

The bill was proposed by Nitzan Horowitz, an MK from the left-wing Meretz Party. According to the Jerusalem Post, it would have allowed couples currently unable to marry under Jewish law, such as same-sex couples, to marry under civil law. It would also have allowed couples who do not wish to be married by the Chief Rabbinate to enter into civil marriages. From the Post:

Horowitz said there are tens of thousands of homosexual couples in Israel, and his law would help them and others who cannot exercise the basic right to be married and build a family.

“There is an extremist, dark institution deciding who may or may not get married,” he said. “The public is sick of the rabbinate.”

According to Horowitz, coalition parties betrayed their secular voters by rejecting the bill, choosing to pander to haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, instead.

“Now, more than ever, it is clear to the public in Israel who is for a free society and who is for haredim,” he added.

Under current law, Israel recognizes civil, interfaith, and same-sex marriages performed abroad, but marriages inside the country must be performed by a body recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. In other words, according to the activist group Be Free Israel, “In Israel you can get married only in one way — the Jewish Orthodox way. Many Israelis want to get married in their way but can’t!” (For a visual aide, check out this video released by the group last year.)

Last Sunday, after U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic evolution, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz – the country’s oldest — came out with a forceful editorial in support of marriage equality. The paper said:

The right to get married is one of the most fundamental civil liberties. All societies in the world are built around legally sanctioned couplehood, which comes with rights and privileges, legal custody of children and social recognition. Such sanction represents a fundamental pillar of a society that treasures equality. This being the case, there is no justification for preventing the conferral of such rights to one segment of the population. . . The huge government coalition which consolidated last week, most of whose members are secular, should correct this injustice and confer the right to marriage to people who have until now been denied this freedom.

For further context surrounding today’s vote, the website Gay Star News quoted two journalists from Gay Middle East, an LGBT news and advocacy group:

Gay Middle East editor in Israel, Shabi Gatenio, said the government has been rejecting gay rights for decades and is not surprised by today’s decision.

Speaking to Gay Star News, he said: ‘It is a hypocrisy that this government, this prime minister and foreign minister have objected to every pro-gay law we have wanted to pass but are flagging up its positive record on gay rights abroad.’

Dan Littauer, executive editor of Gay Middle East, told GSN that progress in LGBT rights in the state of Israel has almost universally come through the higher courts, with very little coming from government policy or legislation.

He said: ‘The Israeli government has done very little for LGBT rights and used propaganda to present itself as a progressive country.

‘No government in Israel has legislated for marriage equality. The current government has extreme religious right-wing elements which are known to be actively homophobic and oppose any LGBT legislation.’

Sad day. Here’s hoping that this or a future Israeli government will reverse course and allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry.