Friday, 20 January 2012

Israel refuses citizenship for Israeli man's husband

Maayan Zafrir, an Israeli citizen, and his husband Felipe Javier Episcopo
Source: Dos manzanas via Google translate

Israel has refused to grant citizenship to a Uruguayan citizen married since 2008 with an Israeli. The couple, who have two young children, may be forced to appeal to the country's Supreme Court, which in 2006 accepted the request of five gay couples married to Israeli nationals abroad who asked to see their marriage recognized and forced the administration to register their marriages. What happened once again highlighted the complexity and paradoxical nature of the rules in matrimonial matters in Israel.

Felipe Javier Episcopo and Maayan Zafrir met online in 1999 and have lived together in Israel since 2001, where they are legally recognized as a couple, according to Israeli law. Episcopo legally immigrated to Israel where he was initially granted a visa and work permit in 2005 and obtained a temporary residence permit. In 2008 the couple married in Canada. Initially, there were no problems, the authorities accepted the marriage and updated the status of both. However, when Episcopo applied for citizenship (continued temporary residence permit), the Ministry of Interior refused to fully recognize the marriage, citing as the reason the existence of a regulation that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and rejected the request.

The couple is thus confronted with the paradox that the state recognizes marriage only in part. Zafrir denounced the attitude of the Ministry of Interior, stating that what most concerns him are his children (two years old twins) because, as things stand, if he died Felipe could no longer care for them. The couple spoke to New Family, an advocacy group fighting for LGBT rights. The group's founder, Irit Rosenblum, has denounced what he considers "a clear case of discrimination." "It is difficult to understand why the state has to act as discriminatory and humiliating, since the couple are already recognized," he said, noting that they are willing to go to the Supreme Court.

Last September we reported here in dosmanzanas the Israeli Interior Ministry decision to grant Israeli citizenship to Bayardo Alvarez, the non-Jewish spouse of a gay marriage. It was a historic decision, the first time that the 'law of return' was applied to a gay marriage. However, a ministry spokesman stressed that the decision would not necessarily be similar in other cases.

The law on marriage in Israel
What happened once again highlighted the need for reform of marriage laws in Israel. This is a situation that does not, of course, apply only to same-sex couples. In December, for example, the Ministry of Interior  refused entry to the country to the Nigerian husband of an Israeli woman, calling him 'just a sperm donor'.

In Israel there is only religious marriage, and most of the population used to join the rabbinate as Jewish orthodoxy (religious marriages may also be held Christians or Muslims). If a heterosexual couple wants to marry Israeli in a non-religious ceremony they must do so abroad, and then apply for registration in Israel. Many, in fact, of those who choose to cross the border to celebrate a secular marriage do it in Cyprus. According to polls, two thirds of the Israeli population supports the adoption of a civil marriage law. However, last year the Knesset (Israeli parliament) again rejected a proposal to that effect.
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  3. Much needs to be improved in Israeli law on this subject, but it is heartening to see how accepting Israel already is compared to many western nations and especially compared to the surrounding Muslim dominated countries where these two gay men wouldn't even dare to be known as a couple, let alone apply to have their marriage recognized etc. Good for Israel!

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