By Nathan Jeffay
In what is being heralded as a “first step towards civil marriage” in Israel, same-sex and mixed-faith couples are being offered partnership cards.The cards are being issued by Tel Aviv-based pressure group New Family to allow couples who cannot wed through religious channels to sign legal documents confirming their partnership. A wallet-sized card is then issued, which either partner can later nullify. Four-hundred couples have signed up in the first fortnight. “There are couples who have been together for 30 years, and unable to get any recognition until now, who are delighted,” New Family chair Irit Rosenblum told the JC. “It gives them social recognition.”In practical terms, it is claimed the cards will make it easier for such couples to access their rights in areas including inheritance, tax and fiscal law. New Family has sent letters to every municipality asking for official recognition of the cards, and has so far received three responses — all positive — from Tel Aviv, Lod and Mevasseret Zion. Although it anticipates opposition in religious areas, “it is too soon to know”, Ms Rosenblum says.Although the scheme might appear a gimmick, “this is a real revolution, an alternative to religious marriage. This is the first step to show that society here in Israel accepts the new family, which is not using the existing institutions for recognising partnerships. It will be the first step towards civil marriage.”Among the first recipients of the partnership cards were Lior and Sharon Brand from Ramat Gan. Mr Brand refers to the process as their “marriage” and the couple followed the signing with a “wedding” in the Judean Desert.“I do not practise any religion and — even though we would have been accepted — getting married under the rabbinate was out of the question,” he explained. “This way we could do it as we wanted.” With only religious marriage available in Israel, thousands of couples unable to wed through a synagogue or mosque are deprived of legal recognition for their relationship. As well as same-sex couples, the system excludes mixed-faith couples and those whose union is forbidden by religious law, such as divorcees or converts who want to marry a Cohen. It also applies to many Russian and Ethiopian immigrants who are considered Jewish by the Law of Return but not by halachah. For heterosexual couples affected, the only answer until now has been to travel to Cyprus for a civil ceremony.