Gay Israeli member of the Israeli Parliament or Knesset, Nitzan Horowitz has conducted three unofficial same-sex wedding ceremonies in front of the rabbinical court.

Same-sex marriages are recognised in Israel, but must be conducted overseas as only the religious authorities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze can perform marriages, and none offer gay couples the chance to marry. Like mixed faith straight couples, gay couples must marry in another country such as Canada, but once they do, they are recognised as a married couple within the Jewish state.

The protest, which responded to discriminative comments made by Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, took place on Thursday. One of the ceremonies was a civil marriage.

Ben Dahan, number four on the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi, theJewish Home Party’s slate in the country’s upcoming elections, described same-sex marriage as a “recipe for the destruction of the Jewish people.”

The party’s chairman Naftali Bennett said last week that Israel’s recognition of same-sex marriage “clashes with the values of Israel as a Jewish state. It has a set of family values. The state cannot absorb or contain official recognition of same-sex marriage.”

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, the Knesset’s only openly gay member conducted the ceremonies. He said: “Thousands of Israeli couples every year do what we’re doing here — couples who cannot or do not wish to marry by way of the coercive establishment of the Chief Rabbinate.”

He added: “There are no civil unions in Israel, no same-sex marriage and no freedom of choice in marriage, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are deprived of this basic right.”

Mr Horowitz spoke of Meretz as having always fought for human rights and would continue to do so. He also accentuated the problems facing couples who no not cooperate with the Chief Rabbinate: “They must fly abroad, spend thousands of dollars, become entangled with legal issues, are harassed by the clerks of (Shas party chairman) Eli Yishai.”

“And after all that there are those who still have the nerve to say we are destroying the Jewish people — like some members of a certain right-wing party.”

Horowitz closed the three-couple ceremony by saying “I pronounce you — all of us — equal citizens in the gates of love.”

In May, the Israeli Parliament voted against introducing civil marriage for gay and straight couples. Despite this, Israel grants almost identical rights to same-sex or opposite couples in domestic partnerships as married couples and it is the only country in the Middle East to recognise same-sex marriages conducted overseas.