Israeli lawyer suggests de facto marriage as act of civil disobedience

In response to the Israeli rabbinate’s monopoly on marriage in Israel, the author proposes an act of civil disobedience.

A de facto marriage is an act of protest against a corrupt system of religious marriage and divorce in Israel. Israel’s marriage and divorce system is a commercial industry that thrives on exclusion, discrimination and the commercialization of family life. The bureaucracy at its core is a greedy arrangement that profits not only from marriages but also from religious status inquiries, divorce proceedings, alimony hearings, and custody battles under the jurisdiction it monopolizes. At its core is a business model that keeps Jewish citizens in public captivity.

The rabbinate, which is an organization paid for by the government, has a monopoly on family life. By criminalizing marriage they have not authorized, they ensure their entrenched power and a healthy income. Therefore, I propose that couples in Israel of all faiths, genders and status reclaim authority over their union from an oppressive religious system and live as common-law spouses as an act of civil disobedience.

De facto marriage is an act of protest against a system of marriage and divorce that profoundly violates the freedom of conscience of its Jewish citizen. Because marriages performed by persons other than rabbis authorized by the rabbinate are illegal, secular Jews and followers of egalitarian streams of Judaism cannot choose officiating rabbis consistent with their beliefs. Instead, they must choose between a religious marriage that contradicts their beliefs, having a religious ceremony that meets their spiritual needs but is not recognized by law, or living in a common-law relationship without a marriage certificate. Why should we get a license from the state to have our life partnership recognized? Is this not an attack on freedom of conscience?

Common law marriage is a challenge to a system of marriage and divorce that deeply violates the religious freedom of its Jewish citizens. While Israel protects freedom of religion for all faiths; no citizen has the right to be free of religion. The lack of separation of religion and state means that couples who do not fall under the de facto definition of family in Israel, a man and woman of the same religion eligible for marriage with the Orthodox religious rituals required for government recognition – cannot marry or register as a couple.

No civil marriage is celebrated in Israel. Those who wish to marry someone of a different religion or of the same sex must marry abroad or live in a common-law relationship without a marriage certificate. At the moment there is 400,000 Israelis, who cannot marry in Israel because they do not meet Rabbinate requirements. Religious jurisdiction over personal status ironically makes Israel the only democracy to legally discriminate on the basis of religion.

Common law marriage is a response to the government’s invasion of privacy. A common-law union provides privacy and autonomy in a world of increasing intrusion and regulation. I propose to “privatize” the wedding. Not in the capitalist sense of letting a corporation take advantage of governmental authority, but in restoring the civil liberties taken from the individual and appropriated by the government.

Common-law union is an expression of personal autonomy. Couples should be free to choose who has authority over their union based on their beliefs. Those who choose religious marriage should be able to marry the clergy of their choice and have their marriage registered by the state. Those who wish to unite civilly must be able to marry an officer of the State. And those who wish to remain independent of government or religious authority can choose a common-law union over a marriage license.

The common law union makes the couple, and not the government or the religious institution, the authority in family life. Common-law unions have their own independent authority and validity. Their legitimacy is distinct from religious or civil marriage, whose authority is derived from an external source, the state or the religious institution. Common-law unions allow individuals to take control of the most personal sphere of life by removing government or religious intervention in family life. It makes the couple master of their destiny.

Common-law union is the future of marriage. An accelerated process of “privatization” of family life is underway. Couples live their entire lives and raise children together without legal marriage. When the validity of the relationship is internal and the couple only reports its existence to the authorities without seeking permission from the government or a religious institution to marry, the relationship is more authentic, natural and intimate. This powerful conceptual shift strengthens and validates the relationship from within and not through outside forces. This is the very essence of freedom. Once this understanding is achieved and the demand for freedom in family life is expressed, family life can become our private domain and our individual prerogative.

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