The Jerusalem Post
Population Authority says it won’t register online marriages
The Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry formally informed the Lod District Court on Tuesday that it will not register civil marriages performed in an online ceremony in Utah for Israeli couples.
The authority failed to explain its stance however, and the court has asked that it provide such an explanation by July 7, while also apparently ignoring its request for the petition to be dismissed.
The Utah weddings have become an explosive political issue given that for all intents and purposes they make civil marriage available in Israel. This is something which religious parties have fiercely resisted. Secular and liberal parties, on the other hand, have advanced it, including those in the current coalition.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose ministry has responsibility for the Population and Immigration Authority, has not yet taken a public stance on the Utah marriages. She has expressed political and personal opposition to civil marriage in Israel in the past.
Asked about her position on the matter on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Shaked said the issue “has not yet reached her table.”
Some 500 Israeli couples have wed so far through Utah’s online civil marriages, since civil marriage is not available in Israel and the COVID-19 pandemic made traveling abroad for such ceremonies all but impossible.
In a one-line response to the court’s request for the Authority’s legal rationale behind its decision not to register Utah marriages, it wrote that it had rejected the request of one couple who had wed in this manner and asked for the petition to be dismissed.
The Authority appended the couple in question to the letter as part of its response to the court in which it said that the couple had not had a representative in Utah when the wedding was performed.
It also said that “the majority of the components of the wedding… relate to actions conducted in Israel,” and that “Most of the affiliations of this marriage ceremony are not to the state where the certificate was issued.”
The Authority said the wedding was essentially performed in Israel and that, since there is no provision for civil marriage in Israel, the marriage could not be registered in the Population and Immigration Authority.
In response to the submission, attorney Vlad Finkelshtein rejected the claim that the wedding was performed in Israel.
When speaking to The Jerusalem Post, he said that every aspect of the wedding was performed in Utah, the office of the marriage registrar was in Utah, and that the computer and the IP address from which the ceremony was broadcast were in Utah.
He also noted that the issue raised by the Population and Immigration Authority that the petitioning couple did not have a representative in Utah at the time of the wedding was relevant to cases of marriage by proxy, in which couples give others power of attorney to marry abroad in their name, which he said was not substantively different from online marriages.
Finkelshtein further pointed out to the court that just last week, a couple that married through Utah’s marriage service successfully registered their marriage in the Kfar Saba branch the Population and Immigration Authority.
And he noted that the Authority had failed to contact the relevant officials in Utah to ask them about the details and nature of the service they provide.
THE ATTORNEY also described the one-sentence response of the Authority to the court, and its repeated request to dismiss the petition as contempt of court.
“My only conclusion from the Authority’s failure to respond appropriately is that it wants to lose this case,” said Finkelshtein.
“They want a ruling ordering the Population and Immigration Authority to register these marriages because the Authority doesn’t want to be the one to allow them, and open up severe political problems,” he continued.
“The Interior Ministry doesn’t want it, the minister doesn’t want it, no [one] wants it. And no interior minister in the history of the country ever wanted to register civil marriages, gay marriages or anything else.”
Director of the Hiddush religious pluralism organization Rabbi Uri Regev said the Population Authority’s response to the petition represented “a capitulation” to the position of the former interior minister and ultra-Orthodox Shas Party head Arye Deri who in January ordered registration of Utah marriages be frozen.
Shaked has not reversed this freeze.
“The Population Authority and the State Attorney’s Office are ignoring more than sixty years of consistent Supreme Court rulings, which ruled against them at every stage of the way when they tried to thwart the registration of couples who got married in civil marriages abroad, because Israel entrusted the keys to exercising the civil right to get married to religious institutions, and thereby denies the right to marry to hundreds of thousands of citizens, and many more who are not interested in getting married in a religious marriage in the Chief Rabbinate,” said Regev.
The Hiddush director also rejected the state’s attempt to compare proxy marriages and Utah’s online marriage service, adding that he hoped “the new minister and the attorney general will think again whether they are prepared to stand behind such ridiculous claims, and [instead] save unnecessary litigation.”
Hiddush has itself filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court on behalf of several other couples who married through Utah’s online service, although the court has yet to issue a decision requiring the state to issue its response to the petition.
The controversy over Utah’s online civil marriages developed last year during the COVID-19 crisis, in which some of the thousands of couples who marry every year in civil ceremonies abroad were unable to get married due to the pandemic and the restrictions on international travel it caused.