Head to Head / Isn’t New York’s take on same-sex marriage a major step?

An interview with family rights activist Irit Rosenblum.

By Tomer Zarchin

Attorney Irit Rosenblum, the founder and chairperson of the New Family Organization for Advancement of Family Rights, each year handles hundreds of cases involving homosexual and lesbian couples that are heard primarily in the family affairs courts. These involve requests by same-sex couples to receive court approval of a long-term partnership agreement – the same-sex equivalent of a heterosexual couple’s prenuptial agreement – and also parental partnership agreements. The latter, for example, are needed in the event that a man or a male couple decides to bring a child into the world with the help of a woman, and permission for conducting DNA tests that will allow a gay man who had a child with the help of a surrogate mother abroad to be recognized as a biological parent.

The State of New York’s decision last week to recognize same-sex marriages got mixed reactions from Rosenblum. On one hand, she thinks it is an impressive, symbolic achievement, but on the other hand, she is unhappy about the mass drive by homosexuals and lesbians to attain the traditional, straight model of marriage by means of approval by the establishment.

You don’t see the approval of same-sex marriages in New York as a breakthrough?

“The U.S. is very conservative and it has states that are more conservative than Israel, so it is an important step for democracy in the world. But, I personally think it is better to accept the individual relationship as it is, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual, and not to strive to create such anachronistic family units.”

But these same anachronistic family units as you call them provide the state’s legitimacy to same-sex family and also benefits that come with it.

“I think that the institution of marriage should be privatized and not part of the state’s jurisdiction. The desire for marriage mediated by the state only perpetuates the state’s control over private life. It is contrary to the worldwide process of social activism to separate church and state, and the family from religion and the establishment. Over the years, the state has taken over the family unit and determined its shape in a way that severely hurt groups that do not meet the criteria determined by the system. Not only partners of the same sex, but also partners who do not have the same religion or partners who chose to marry abroad in a civil ceremony.”

But you can understand the desire of homosexual and lesbian couples to gain formal recognition from the state of their relationship, just as straight couples get.

“Undoubtedly, it stems from a desire for social legitimacy, recognition. And there is no better way to be part of the mainstream than marriage through the establishment. In this sense, the homo-lesbian community acts in line with the social process under way all over the world. The more individualist process involves many couples who opt not to marry, but rather to formalize their relationship without marriage, using various sorts of agreements.”

But such marital agreements between partners in same-sex couples or in a heterosexual relationship do not provide them with the same, full benefits enjoyed by a couple that has formalized its relationship via the state.

“That is true but we see that as time goes by that there is more recognition of marriage certificates based on an affidavit provided by the couple, wherein they declare mutual responsibility for each other, concern, solidarity and agreement to support each other. This is a declaration in which they announce that they are ‘significant others.’ This is particularly significant when it comes to rights granted by the local authorities or the National Insurance Institute – for example, benefits, eligibility for services, discounts. I believe that as more couples adopt privatized marriage, the state will also grant more recognition of their rights.”

Which of the legal battles is now the top priority of the homo-lesbian community in Israel?

“Without question, it is recognition of surrogacy for same-sex couples in Israel. We are accompanying homosexuals now in the midst of legal proceedings that used a surrogate mother abroad – in India and in the U.S. – and undoubtedly this is an issue that troubles the community greatly. Why do homosexual couples have to travel abroad and pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to finance the surrogacy process just because in Israel the law does not recognize surrogacy for these couples?”

Apart from the high costs, Israeli authorities make the process more difficult.

“The bureaucracy is outrageous. For example, even before the baby arrives in Israel, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the courts all are involved. It is an obstacle the establishment imposes, even if not intentionally, on the right of homosexuals to be parents, after they spent huge sums.”

Last year you handled the case of Dan Goldberg, who faced difficulties imposed by Family Court Judge Philip Marcus, in bringing to Israel twins who were born with the aid of surrogate mother in India. Marcus did not conceal his reservations about the surrogacy in a same-sex family. Is he an exception, or does he reflect the standard approach of family court judges to a same-sex family?

“I don’t think he’s an exception, because you can find family court judges who are ideologically uncomfortable with legal proceedings connected to same-sex families. It simply does not fit in with their worldview, but I think that most family court judges already recognize the same-sex family unit.”

And the judges who don’t – how do they express their reservations?

“Not in a direct manner, but by impeding the legal process in which the same-sex couples are involved. Today it is impossible to reject a homosexual or lesbian couple’s request for recognition of a joint living arrangement that they have signed, which is equivalent to a financial prenuptial agreement, because it is already a fact on the ground. But it is possible to stall and drag things on. Most family court judges recognize the revolution that has taken place here in terms of homosexual and lesbian rights.”

In the past you presented a controversial proposal to limit the number of religious family court judges. Why?

“I think that there has to be a balance between religious and secular family court judges, because in the family courts, there are more religious judges, proportionally, than there are in the other courts. A religious judge cannot separate himself from a religious commandment when he is dealing with a surrogacy case of a homosexual or the approval of a shared living agreement for a lesbian couple.”

Do you still think that the revolution in homosexual and lesbian legal rights will not come from the High Court of Justice but from the family courts?

“Unequivocally. Case by case, we have created a reality of recognition of the homo-lesbian family. The revolution is coming from the bottom up.”


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