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Israeli high court tears down same-sex surrogacy ban in historic ruling

Emma Powys Maurice July 12, 2021
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Israel

Celebrations at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, Israel, in June 2019 (Amir Levy/Getty)

The Supreme Court of Israel has cleared the way for same-sex couples to have children through a surrogate in an historic ruling hailed as a victory for LGBT+ rights.

On Sunday (11 July) the High Court of Justice ruled that legislation denying surrogacy rights to same-sex couples is unlawful, and must be lifted within six months.

“My heart is bursting with excitement,” one would-be parent, Oshri Buzaglo, told Haaretz after the ruling was announced. “It’s still a dream, but today we’ve gotten a little closer to it.”

Under existing regulations, Israeli same-sex couples looking to become parents cannot engage a surrogate, and are often deterred by the additional costs of finding one abroad.

The decision brings to an end a legal battle that has gone on for more than 11 years since a petition was first filed at Israel’s top court in 2010.

“We won! And now it’s final,” the petitioners said in a statement. “This is a big step toward equality, not only for LGBT+ [people] in Israel, but for everyone in Israel. The ruling is important to us all because any arbitrary discrimination is an embarrassment to the country.

“Nobody has the right to discriminate against parents and deny them access to anything just because they aren’t a man and a woman.”

The law was previously expanded to open surrogacy to single women, but in February last year the court ruled that continuing to exclude same-sex couples was illegal as it “disproportionately harmed the right to equality and the right to parenthood”.

It struck down the controversial law and gave parliament a year to draw up a new one – but Israel’s new coalition government, split by a strong liberal/conservative divide, was unable to meet the deadline.

Last week as the issue continued to draw tensions along religious lines the state asked the court to step in, saying that amending the law in line with the previous ruling was “unfeasible” in the current political situation.

The court said Sunday that “since for more than a year the state has done nothing to advance an appropriate amendment to the law, the court ruled that it cannot abide the continued serious damage to human rights caused by the existing surrogacy arrangement.”

“Finally, equality!” tweeted health minister Nitzan Horowitz, promising his ministry would begin the necessary preparations to uphold the court’s decision.

The Aguda, an Israeli LGBT+ activist group, applauded the decision as a “historic landmark in our struggle for equality”.

But Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called it “a grave blow to the state’s Jewish identity”, while former health minister Yaakov Litzman said the High Court justices were “endangering the future of the Jewish people and destroying the state’s character and Jewish tradition”.

It’s voices like these that have given some same-sex couples cause for concern. Although the ruling has been widely celebrated among LGBT+ Israelis, many fear the state could tangle them in red tape to make the surrogacy process needlessly difficult.

“We’re skeptical,” said Yaniv Levy, a 32-year-old gay man, speaking to Haaretz.

“It’s clear that everyone is happy, it sounds like a significant step. But honestly? I’m convinced that the state will pile up bureaucratic difficulties, and will make us have conversations with social workers and psychologists just to get a license to be parents.

“The real test will be when they establish the stages of the process. Meanwhile, this is good news, but it’s no more than a headline.”

Related topics: Israel, surrogacy

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