Utah online weddings are legal, according to U.S. and Israeli law

Hiddush files petition against Minister Aryeh Deri

An administrative petition was filed at the Jerusalem District Court this week against the Interior Minister, the Population Authority, and the Attorney General, who refuse to register some 150 Israeli couples who have been legally married via web conferencing in Utah County, Utah, USA. The petition was filed by Hiddush – For Religious Freedom & Equality, 9 of the couples married online via Utah County, and 2 Utah rabbis, Samuel Spector and Dr. David Levinsky.

Aryeh Deri, source: WikipediaAryeh Deri, source: Wikipedia

The need to file a petition such as this one stems from the untenable situation in Israel, in which the civil government and political system succumb to the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox political parties, entrusting them with control over key areas of public life. This dynamic perpetually leads to the abuse of those very powers that are entrusted to those who aim to turn the Jewish and democratic State of Israel into a medieval theocracy.

Since October 2020, many Israeli couples have been married through the online legal framework created by Utah County to facilitate civil marriage via online registration and video conferencing marriage ceremonies. The Population Authority thoroughly examined and accepted the legality of the Utah marriage procedure before registering the first 2 couples who presented their civil marriage certified and Apostille verifies certificates as married. However, shortly after this new breakthrough for Israeli couples became public, the Interior Minister, Rabbi Aryeh Deri, intervened and ordered the Authority to cease registering these couples. His order, which reflects his vehement ultra-Orthodox opposition to freedom of marriage in Israel and his efforts to maintain the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate in numerous spheres of religious life and personal status of all Jews in Israel, runs contrary to consistent Israeli Supreme Court rulings and the Authority’s own rules and guidelines.

For some 60 years now, the Supreme Court has thwarted attempts by the Ministry of the Interior to block registration of civil marriage celebrated by Israeli couples abroad. It has done so on a variety of occasions, including same-sex weddings, which are not legally available in Israel, and “double-proxy” marriages in El Salvador. The Court has ruled, without exception, that when a couple presents an official marriage certificate from a foreign country, verified by an Apostille stamp, the registering clerk has to register this marriage in the Israeli civil population registry.

Hiddush estimates that there are more than 700,000 citizens in Israel who are prevented from marrying within Israel due to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over the marriages of Jews in Israel.

Hiddush estimates that there are more than 700,000 citizens in Israel who are prevented from marrying within Israel due to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over the marriages of Jews in Israel, and there are more than a million who, according to Hiddush surveys, would prefer to marry outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate if this were a legal alternative. In fact, the couples petitioning along with Hiddush represent the three categories of couples who have been opting to marry via Utah County since this option became available:

  1. couples from the LGBTQ community and others that the Rabbinate is unwilling to marry, based upon its religious rules (such as those who are presumed to belong to the biblical priestly clan who wish to marry a divorcee or a female convert)
  2. couples in which one or both spouses are not recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate
  3. couples who refuse to marry under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate for conscientious reasons (such as secular couples or those who seek an egalitarian wedding ceremony)

The opportunity to get married civilly in Utah through long-distance ceremonies has become more critical for Israeli couples, as the Corona pandemic has prevented couples from going abroad to marry for many months. According to Hiddush’s petition, halting the registration of these couples causes serious harm, not only in terms of the legal rights of these couples, but also on more urgent matters, such as their eligibility for fertility treatments, co-parenting of couples in the LGBTQ community, expiration of work visas for spouses, and more.

The petition, filed by the Legal Advisor and Deputy Director of Hiddush, Adv. Sagi Agmon, and the CEO of Hiddush, Rabbi Adv. Uri Regev, details the many legal principles and binding precedents that the Minister and the Authority are violating, the fact that even though Hiddush challenged the suspension of registration of Utah weddings back at the beginning of January, no legal reason has been presented yet that would justify this refusal to register, which runs contrary to the law and all Supreme Court rulings in the matter.

This battle is simultaneously for freedom of marriage and rule of law in Israel. Minister Rabbi Deri enslaves the Interior Ministry and the Population Authority to his religious worldview; and, as we see these days, he knowingly rejects the authority of the Supreme Court, and violates the most basic values of democracy.

Some 60 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the Population Authority's obligation to register couples as married upon their presenting official marriage certificates from foreign countries, and it has repeated this ruling over and over again. It is unfortunate to see that state authorities, out of considerations having nothing to do with the law and out of their desire to harm the vast public that demands civil marriage in Israel, ignore the provisions of state law and harm hundreds of Israeli couples who are denied the most basic right by the State of Israel - their right to be a family.

Take Action!