Israel Expands "Law Of Return" To Include Same-Sex Couples — Finally

As Gaza representatives in Egypt engage in peace talks, the Israeli government has announced some good news. In a directive released on Tuesday, the Israeli Interior Minister extended Israel's Law of Return, allowing non-Jewish same-sex spouses can immigrate to Israel with their Jewish partners. The law has reportedly already taken effect, with the first same-sex couple with a non-Jewish spouse completing the immigration process on Monday.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar said in the directive that it was discriminatory to allow non-Jewish spouses in heterosexual marriage immigrate and receive Israeli citizenship, and not do the same for non-Jewish gay spouses. Said the minister:

The gates of Israel are open to all Jews and their families, without discrimination based on lifestyle. "I see no basis for distinguishing between heterosexual marriage married Jews, and Jews living abroad in same-sex marriages, according to the law. Both fulfill the purpose of the Right of Return, to 'bring their children home.'

Since 1950, Israel has granted citizenship to people of the Jewish faith regardless of their homeland. Known as the Law of Return — or, in the spiritual sense, to "make aliyah" — the provision was initially only open to Jews, but was later extended in 1970 to their non-Jewish spouses, children or grandchildren, as well as the non-Jewish spouses of their children and grandchildren. Same-sex couples were denied the same treatment, even though Israel recognizes gay marriages that were legally done abroad. However, gay marriage is currently banned in Israel.

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The right of citizenship for a non-Jewish same-sex-spouse is a major yet unexpected victory for gay rights in Israel. The nation has been entangled in a debate over same-sex marriage that has pitted social conservatives against a rising tide of young, openly gay progressives. Tel Aviv, after all, has cultivated a vibrant gay community and, in recent years, has become known as the "Gay Capital of the World" for gay travelers, according to several travel surveys.

But Israel's social conservative mores are strong, particularly among the more Orthodox citizens. Although the Israeli government is tolerant toward the gay community, Education Minister Shai Piron was criticized in June after declaring same-sex couples don't count as families in an interview with Basheva newspaper. He added that proposals for a civil marriage bill should be changed to a civil "partnership" bill:

I think that it is the right, perhaps even the obligation, of the State of Israel to say to same-sex couples who choose to live their lives together – 'This is not a family'. Perhaps we should change the name to 'civil partnership' or to some other term that would not connote couples or families.

According to The Jerusalem Post, many angered Israelis called for Piron to be removed from his position. Although he apologized, the Education Minister reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage. But Israelis like Piron may be outliers in the Jewish state: A poll conducted in 2014 by the Coalition for Free Marriage found that 79 percent of Israel's Jewish population support gay marriage, including 41 percent of respondents who define themselves as religious.

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