Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage

Allyn Fisher-Ilan
Reuters Middle East

* Israeli couple granted country's first same-sex divorce

* Same-sex marriages not recognised under Israeli law

JERUSALEM, Dec 4 (Reuters) - An Israeli court has awarded

the country's first divorce to a gay couple, which experts

called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be

legally conducted in the Jewish state.

A decision this week by a family court in the Tel Aviv area

"determined that the marriage should be ended" between former

Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit

Kama, 52, their lawyer, Judith Meisels, said on Tuesday.

Legal experts see the ruling as a precedent in the realm of

gay rights in a country where conservative family traditions are

strong and religious courts oversee ceremonies like marriages,

divorces and burials.

While Israel's Interior Ministry still has the power to try

and veto the decision, it would likely have to go court in order

to do so, Meisels said.

A 2006 high court decision forced the same ministry, headed

by an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member, to recognise same sex

marriages performed abroad and ordered the government to list a

gay couple wed in Canada as married.

Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no

formal legal status.

"The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil

revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage," newly

divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek

Yizrael College, told Reuters.

He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not

long after Canada legalised same-sex marriage. They separated

last year, Kama said.

It took months to finalise a divorce as they could not meet

Canada's residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved

there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge

of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.

By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may

have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who

until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual

handle their divorces, legal experts say.

"This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews

are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a

rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential

here for straight couples" to do so as well, said Zvi Triger,

deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy)