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Saturday 8 September 2007

Government to allow limited consular weddings

Government to allow limited consular weddings

Couples will be allowed to marry in consular weddings in Israel as long
as both parties are classified as having no religion or belonging to
religions that are not recognized as religious communities in Israel,
the state announced Sunday.
It marks the first time the government has made a conscious decision to
allow any type of civil marriage ceremony for Israeli citizens to take
place on Israeli soil.
"This is a breakthrough," said Michael Corinaldi, the attorney
representing two High Court of Justice petitions demanding that the
government allow consular marriages. He predicted Sunday's decision
would set a precedent for the further expansion of civil marriages.
But Irit Rosenberg, one of the petitioners and head of the New Family
organization that champions the rights of unconventional families, told
The Jerusalem Post she was infuriated by the decision and had asked
Corinaldi to withdraw her petition. "I do not want my name associated
with the government's statement," she said.
Corinaldi received a letter earlier in the day announcing the state's
new policy from Shai Nitzan, head of the Special Tasks Division in the
State Attorney's Office.
In the past, consulates did conduct marriages in Israeli, under an
international agreement recognized by Israel that allows couples to be
married by a foreign consul if at least one of the partners is a citizen
of the country represented by the consul. But in 1995, the Foreign
Ministry issued a directive to all the consulates in Israel prohibiting
them from conducting such weddings for Israeli citizens.
In 2000, Corinaldi petitioned the High Court against the government
prohibition on behalf of New Family. In that petition, Rosenblum
demanded that the government allow consuls to conduct marriages
regardless of the religion of the two partners.
Two years later, Corinaldi petitioned the court again, this time
demanding that the government allow consular marriages for couples
classified as having no religion.
During the seven years since the first petition was filed, the state and
the High Court kept putting off the case. After one such postponement in
March 2006, Corinaldi complained that "the court has set 10 different
dates to hear the petitions. Each time, some other cabinet minister was
replaced. Once it was the foreign minister, another time the interior
minister and a third time the prime minister."
There has not been a single hearing in the 18 months since then.
According to Nitzan's letter to Corinaldi, consuls will not be allowed
to marry anyone who changed his religious classification or nationality
entry in the Population Registry before the scheduled marriage. They
will also not be allowed to marry a couple if one of the partners is a
foreign worker present in Israel without a permit. Before conducting the
marriage, the consul will have to make certain the couple has been
issued a document by the Interior Ministry affirming they meet the
state's conditions.
"We waited seven years only to achieve this impossible result," said
Rosenblum. "The new government policy will only allow a handful of
people to marry in Israel. We have won a Pyrrhic victory that will
enable the government to avoid the issue for another 60 years."
Rosenblum added that it was wrong to force foreign consuls to examine
the religious status of the couple. "This is an apartheid policy, where
religion is the determining factor," she said.


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