ISRAEL, a paradise for gay families / by NATHALIE HAMOU in Israel

The Israeli gay community is one the most dynamic in the world. It’s peculiarity: many couples do not conceive leading a life without having children.

Every Friday, the Center for gays and lesbians in Tel-Aviv, nestled on the edge of a public garden, is starting to appear like a baby nursery. Not without reason. According to estimates by the Israeli legal consulting firm New family, there are 18,000 gay and lesbian households in Israel and over 3,000 children are raised within LGBT families with two mothers or two fathers.

“The Israeli community, which lives mainly in the area of Tel-Aviv, has emerged as one of the most dynamic in the world, says lawyer Yossi Berg, who practices in this city.” One of the peculiarities of its members is that many cannot imagine leading a life without having children.” Mr. Berg, a few months ago, had organized the country’s first Conference for alternative families which was intended to educate the Israeli public about LGBT parenting.

Over the course of four days, hundreds of workshops took place at the Center, which brought together lawyers, psychologists, medical experts, teachers, as well as the Israeli Minister of Social Affairs. The goal: to give hope to many Israeli gay couples who wish to become parents.

Considered a crime twenty years ago

Mr. Yossi Berg, who came out at the age of 28, came up with the idea of organizing the forum following the comment made by his daughter Naama (aged 5 at the time): “Dad, I wish you would marry a woman so that people don’t make fun of you.” “It then struck me as increasingly urgent to address a major concern of gays and lesbians: the fear that their child might be rejected because of the sexual preferences of his/her parents,” says Yossi Berg.

Nothing a priori destined for Israel, or more precisely the region of Tel Aviv, becoming one of the most gay-friendly in the world. In a country where Orthodox rabbis control the procedures of marriage and divorce (Ie marriage Civil does not exist for heterosexual couples), the gay community has gained in the last ten years of a more favorable legal environment. “Until 1988. male homosexuality was considered a crime in Israel, says Irit Rozenblum, founder of New family. In the Torah (Leviticus Ed, chapter 18, verse 2) homosexual acts between men is described as an abomination. ”

A family-friendly society

Since the decriminalization of homosexual acts, much progress has been achieved, thanks to rulings made by a very liberal High Court of Justice. The right to adopt children, biological or non-biological, was recognized for same-sex couples (between 2005 and 2008) with, in both cases, the possibility for the spouse to adopt the children of his/her partner. Moreover, since 2009, gay couples can benefit from  paternity leave. The courts have also recognized children born abroad via surrogacy (since 2008); a method of reproduction presently available in the country only for heterosexual couples – a situation that the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs is committed to change.

How is it that Israel became a nation so advanced in this area? “Israeli society is particularly family friendly, whatever the sex of the parents,” says Irit Rozenblum. One can even say that the perception towards gays is changing in their favor when they choose to grow and multiply … ”

An attitude particularly valued in Judaism and in Israel – where Jewish women have on average 3.5 children – is also related to the fact that the country lives since its creation under the constant threat of war.

The use of surrogate mothers

Ron Poole-Dayan, an Israeli-American, married to a Canadian from Montreal with whom he raises twins born ten years ago via surrogacy, shares this analysis. “In Israel, being a parent is part of the gay lifestyle, he says, contrary to what is observed in some countries where homosexuals have rebelled against the family model.” Based in New York, currently in his forties, he spent the first two years, following the birth of his twins as a stay-at-home parent, and now works as marketing director of the agency Circle Surrogacy. Founded in 1995 by John Weltman, this agency based in Boston provides surrogacy services and specializes in same-sex couples (90% of its customers), of which nearly half live abroad. It works exclusively with American surrogates domiciled in states, like Texas, that have laws that are surrogacy friendly.  Circle Surrogacy is one of the only agencies to offer “non-anonymous” egg donations so that intended parents and their children can meet the donors should they wish to down the line. Similarly, it encourages face-to-face meetings between the surrogate and the parents so that both parties can affirm their desire to work together.

“It’s simple, says Ron Poole-Dayan, Israeli gay couples use our services to have a family comprised of two or three children, whilst in Sweden and France, the interest is to essentially have a single child.” Indeed, the homosexual community in the region of Tel-Aviv has recently experienced a real gay baby boom; indicators are multiples. Firstly, the number of Israeli gays interested in pursuing surrogacy has significantly increased. In fact, Israel is about to become the second largest foreign customer base for Circle Surrogacy (which boasts 500 births since its inception and has worked with couples located in over thirty countries), behind France, but ahead of Sweden … with 18 babies born to Israeli gay couples in 2009, and fifty expected by the end of 2010.  Another sign that never fails: the network of support groups for lesbians and gay parents continues to grow. “This year we introduced for the first time a support group for grandparents whose children are gay themselves become parents,” said Dvora Luz, a Czech-born grandmother of 79 years ago a decade, co-founded TEHILA, the Israeli equivalent of American PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). His son, Ami Asherman, who has just separated from his partner after nineteen years together, only two student girls aged 12 years and 6 ½ years. “I was fortunate to be able to adopt in Vietnam Ia first and second in Georgia, tells the athletic therapist for 48 years. It was not at all clear at the time, for an unmarried man, to carry out these efforts. But I was lucky. At home, we put everything on the table: the words “adoption” and “homosexual”. And in kindergarten, I have not hesitated to entrust to the mistress of the elder: “My daughter knows everything.”

Ethical considerations

Sitting along a posh boulevard in central Tel-Aviv, Avishay Caspi-Greenfeld and Avinoam Caspi-Greenfeld, extremely fit men both in their fifties, still cannot believe that their dream came true. This pair of consultants used the services of Circle Surrogacy to conceive Eden and Dor, fraternal twins aged 6 months with the help of Dawn, a surrogate mother living in Texas. They managed to adopt nine years ago a young Ukrainian boy named Gur however the Israeli couple was unlikely to be able to adopt again. “As a gay couple in their fifties, we were really last on the list!Avishay said. But after burying the father of a friend, we realized that we wanted to become biological parents and that children should survive us.” A wish all the more understandable given that both partners come from a family of Holocaust survivors. Both partners, donated their respective sperm to fertilize the eggs prior to them being inseminated into the surrogate, and to their great joy, both ended up with a biological child.

For the gay community in Tel Aviv, surrogacy is undoubtedly a hope. But its cost is prohibitive: $ 150,000, in some cases … Not to mention the ethical considerations. “I’m not ready to resort to surrogacy for the simple question of what will I say to my child later?”, argues Ami Asherman. “I paid a woman to ensure her life then? “According to the physiotherapist, adoption is, conversely, a good deed (mitzvah one in Hebrew, according to Jewish law). One thing is sure, in Israel as elsewhere, same-sex parents, background on new reproductive technologies, remains a controversial topic, even within the gay community.


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