First Comes Love, Then Comes Court
Israeli laws have been enacted to protect the LGBTQ community, but they don't yet completely support couples who want to become parents.
BY ZO FLAMENBAUM
“We could have pulled any man off the street and said he was the father. Because he is a man, he would have been placed on the birth certificate, no questions asked. Because I am a woman, I cannot,” says Johanna Friedman, a 36-year-old Hungarian living in Israel.
Her Israeli partner, Gal Shalom, 37, was two months pregnant when they met and fell in love in Tel Aviv. Both women had been married, and divorced, from men. Both were exploring relationships with women. Both were pursuing independent paths to single motherhood. When their worlds collided in 2017, their dream family was born.
Thanks to a successful IVF procedure, Gal gave birth to twins, but the couple ran into their first roadblock when the hospital refused to list Johanna as a second parent on the birth certificate. Instead, they directed Johanna to family court, so she could legally adopt her children.
In the past 20 years, Israeli laws have been enacted to protect the LGBTQ community, but they don't yet completely support LGBTQ couples who want to become parents. Rules largely based on traditional Jewish law have LGBTQ couples facing long, enduring and expensive legal processes to start families through adoption, artificial insemination, or surrogacy.
“WE WENT TO THE UNITED STATES…BECAUSE WE DIDN’T WANT TO MISS OUR DREAM OF BECOMING A FAMILY.”
Michal Eden, a lawyer and activist for LGBTQ rights, says “homophobic” marriage laws are the root of the problem. Since Israel’s establishment, the Chief Rabbinate is given proxy to the laws of marriage and divorce in the Jewish state. Today, their stronghold prevents progression for marriage equality, making civil marriage difficult for any couple who is not legally “kosher” in their eyes, she says.
“The legal system, when it comes to marriage and divorce, is primitive,” says Eden, who was also Tel Aviv’s first elected gay official. “Because of this, unmarried couples or common-law partners don’t want to marry through the religious system and cannot get married through the system.
When it comes to having children, gay men face even higher hurdles. Israeli law forbids gay and single men from surrogacy in Israel, whereas it is permitted for single women who medically cannot have children. Many gay men are forced to go abroad to seek out adoption or surrogacy, a process that can take months, and cost around $200,000 or more.
Meanwhile, lesbian couples often use sperm donations, and can have second-parent adoptions, like in Johanna and Gal’s case. The same goes for Shani and Mor featured in LURE’s docu-film Love in Israel. The couple went to America for artificial insemination and believe that their case is the first in which eggs from two different women were successfully used in a single womb to create twins.
“Our goal was to have as mutual a pregnancy as possible for us both,” Shani told LURE. “So the ideal way of having kids was to take eggs from me, from Mor, and we chose the same sperm donor … for her to be pregnant with twins, [one] that would be genetically mine, one would be genetically hers.
“We went to the United States to do it over there because we didn’t want to miss our dream of becoming a family. We didn’t want the state of Israel to decide for us the way we could do that.”
Still the process for female gay couples can be exhausting. To be registered as a second mother, they are required to go to court, which can take about a year if there are no complications. Currently, there is an appeal for second parents to be written onto the birth certificate in the hospital; however, this has not yet passed.
Johanna admits that she hasn’t rushed to complete the paperwork, especially given her new parental responsibilities, thanks to her year-old twins. “I don’t need a paper to tell me I’m their mother. It’s not a problem in the day to day, it’s in the little things. If I’m not registered as their mother, there are things I can’t do. Whenever there is some bureaucratic thing, the system works against you. That’s when you feel they are discriminating against same-sex couples.”
Eden suspects the government thinks that “LGBTQ people are a danger to the Jewish nuclear family,” or at least how religious Jewish law defines family.
Despite this, new types of families are blossoming. Eden, in a same sex partnership and a mother herself, feels “a big tension between the Israeli reality and the Israeli legislator. The Israeli reality is opening more to equality. Even if the Israeli government opposes equality for LGBTQ families, new kinds of families are strongly visible.”
“Family is not about blood, or genetics, or biology. It’s about the decision to love each other and be there for each other.”
One of the largest trends is co-parenting, where three- or four-parent families share responsibility. Israeli law does not recognize more than two-parent families, though there is an appeal in Tel Aviv family court requesting recognition for a three-parent family. The case is still open, and Eden remains optimistic about how the family unit is being redefined.
Johanna hasn’t spoken to her own Christian family since her twins were born. Raised as the daughter of a pastor in Hungary, her parents believe that marriage is meant for a man and a woman. Jewish law shares the same belief.
She doesn’t blame religion, but is grateful for the freedom she feels living in Israel. “I don’t think I could live the same way in Hungary, and I am thankful for this bubble.”
She sums it up clearly. “Family is not about blood, or genetics, or biology. It’s about the decision to love each other and be there for each other. It’s about connection and love – this is what happened for us in the beginning, and it’s what shapes us as a family every day.”
Zo Flamenbaum, a New Jersey girl gone Tel Aviv, moved to Israel for opportunity, warmth and hummus. By day, Zo works as a journalist, content creator and creative marketing consultant to support social impact initiatives. By heart, she founded School of Shine, a growth platform for brave, curious souls who are ready to step out of 'default life' and explore all senses of personal freedom through inspired action and bold self expression. Connect with Zo on Instagram at @schoolofshine, or at schoolofshine.com.
Israel is a tiny country packed with diverse people and polarizing beliefs. That can spark tensions, but also create incredible love stories.
In LURE’s Issue 10 “Make Love Not War,” we explore the unique ways Israeli couples of all walks of life express their love. Check out more from Issue 10 below, including our newest original film“Love In Israel.” And be sure to discover more stories of love in Israel on our Instagram.