Tel Aviv tourism went pink over the weekend. Israel, a rainbow nation on its own welcomed more than 200,000 people in Tel Aviv for the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade. The eighteenth year of festivities took off on Friday, June 3, after a moment of silence honoring the memory of those who have been victims of anti-LGBT violence.
As in the United States, acceptance of same-sex relationships in Israel is growing quickly, perhaps spurred by the stabbing death of teenager Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Pride parade last August. B
ut Israel’s government has been even slower than the American government in acknowledging LGBT rights, even though Israel acknowledges more extensive LGBT rights than any other country in the Middle East.
According to a survey issued during Tel Aviv Pride Week by Hiddush, a nonprofit advocate for religious pluralism in Israel, and the Smith Polling Institute, 90 percent of secular Israelis support same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile among the religious, 77 percent of traditional Jews, 46 percent of national religious Jews, and 16 percent of the ultra-Orthodox also support the marriage of same-sex couples. All marriages in Israel are under the jurisdiction of religious courts, which means that even for seculars, there is no option for a nonreligious civil marriage.
In February, the opposition in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, put forth a series of gay rights bills. The package of legislation proposed allowing gay civil unions and same-sex couples to adopt children, educating health professionals about sexual orientation and gender identity, prohibiting gay conversion therapy, and giving the same-sex partners of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers killed during service the same benefits heterosexual widows or widowers would receive. All these bills, however, were voted down in their preliminary readings.
Knesset member, Tzipi Livni, of the Zionist Union, a center-left socially liberal political party, nonetheless said that she was happy that Amir Ohana is the first openly gay member of the Knesset, as part of the decidedly right-of-center Likud party (of which Benjamin Netanyahu is the chairman).
Knesset members on the left and right give who support the LGBT community give the gay rights movement political validation, but Livni says that’s not enough. “The country must give them rights.”