Legislation for the option of civil marriage for Israeli citizens who cannot be wed via religious institutions, including same-sex marriage and marriages between members of different faiths, like Muslims and Jews, was rejected by the Israel parliament, or Knesset.

Currently only a select set of religious institutions, for example the Chief Rabbinate, are sanctioned to authorise marriage in Israel. As a result LGBT and mixed faith couples can not be legally wed or have an equivalent of civil marriage in the country, or even a weaker concept of partnership.

This was not a bill that challenged religious hegemony, but rather aimed to provide an equal legal option for Israeli citizens who are unable to get married in a religious institution.

Despite its pragmatism, 39 MKs opposed the bill while only 11 MKs were in favour.  The majority of MKs (70) did not attend the vote.

Israelis can currently marry abroad and have the state recognise their foreign marriage, gay or straight. But often, according to Attorney Irit Rosenblum, it is difficult in practice for people to get the same rights despite on-paper recognition.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis cannot realize their right to be married in their own country, and must be wed abroad, which is very expensive, all because of blatant religious coercion,” told bill sponsor Nitzan Horowitz (from the left wing Meretz party) to the Jerusalem Post.

He further added: “There is an extremist, dark institution deciding who may or may not get married.”

In the past, successive governments of Israel have blamed their dependency on religious coalition partners for not passing such legislation. However, the current government of Israel has recently been joined by Israel’s largest party, Kadima, a secular party.

The Jerusalem Post reported that after Horowtiz presented the bill, Justice Minister Yaacov Ne’eman said: “You did not bring your bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, so the government’s official stance is to oppose it. Thank you.”

In response Nitzan commented on Facebook: “The Jutice Minister … the most extreme in the Government, did not even bother to explain his opposition to the …  law proposal, which he dismissed with a disdainful smile.  The fiction named “Kadima” was exposed, most of its MKs ran away from voting [e.g. absent] while the rest voted with the religious parties. The result: another slap in the face to a free Israel society.”

The majority of MKs of the centre left parties, Kadima and Labour (although the leader did vote the bill) abstained while mostly left wing and Palestinian MKs voted for the bill.

The Israeli prime minister and Foreign Ministry officials often describe Israel as a beacon and safe haven for LGBT rights in the Middle East.  Most legislation and legal amendments have been the result of Israeli LGBT NGOs challenging inequality through the Israeli High Court which imposed legislative reforms despite the executive’s objections, meaning Israeli governments have little track record in pro-actively legislating for LGBT rights.

According to a report by the Refugee Rights Clinic of Tel Aviv University published in 2008 Israel refuses to weigh requests for asylum by LGBT people fleeing persecution, including LGBT Palestinians.