Civil marriage has been a controversial topic in Israeli politics since the founding of the state in 1948, and has recently made headlines again following the Olympic victory of the gymnast Artem Dolgopyat.
Israel’s second-ever Olympic gold medalist, Dolgopyat, whose family immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine 12 years ago, cannot legally get married in his adopted country. This is because, according to the standards of the Chief Rabbinate, which has a government-granted monopoly in such matters, Artem is not Jewish: his father is Jewish but his mother is not.
However, a new survey shows that 65% of Jews in Israel support the introduction of civil marriage. According to the survey, a large majority of voters from all coalition parties support civil marriage in Israel: 98% of Yesh Atid voters, 93% of Labor voters, 80% of Blue and White voters, 100% of Meretz voters, 81% of New Hope voters, 82% of Yisrael Beytenu voters, 62% of Yamina voters, and even 58% of Likud voters also support the right to civil marriage. The same survey concluded 90% of secular couples and 79% of non-religious traditional couples also support civil marriage in Israel. The survey was conducted among the adult Jewish public, and therefore did not include voters from the Joint List alliance and Ra’am party, the press release emphasized.
According to the Hiddush (Renewal) Association for Religious Freedom and Equality, “Thousands of Jewish couples in Israel annually choose to marry civilly overseas, many of whom do so because the Chief Rabbinate will not marry them, such as when a non-Orthodox or Modern Orthodox convert wants to get married, but among them there are also thousands of couples in which both spouses are Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate’s standards. These couples are making a conscientious choice to opt out of the Rabbinate’s monopoly and, therefore, need to seek marriage overseas.”
Over the course of recent years, there has been a consistent decline in the number of couples marrying via the Chief Rabbinate. At the same time, there has been a consistent rise in the number of Jewish couples opting for cohabitation without marrying at all. This phenomenon can be explained by several factors; and the growing desire of Jewish couples not to fall into the hands of the Rabbinate in case they separate is chief among them.