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Tuesday, 30 May 2000

A tale of two mothers

Globe and Mail

Ultra-Orthodox leaders outraged at ruling that creates Israel's first two-mother family

GLOBE AND MAIL, Tuesday, May 30, 2000

MATTHEW KALMAN
Special to The Globe and Mail

Jerusalem -- In a controversial decision hailed by lesbians and gays and denounced in religious circles, Israel's Supreme Court has recognized the right of a lesbian spouse to be registered as the parent of her partner's biological child.

The court ruled yesterday that two lesbian partners can both be legally registered as the mothers of the same child, creating the country's first two-mother family and drawing outrage from ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders.

One ultra-Orthodox lawmaker accused the judges of imposing the norms of the Biblical city of Sodom.

The court ordered government officials to register Nicole and Ruti Barnea-Kadish, a lesbian couple living in Tel Aviv, as the legal parents of Ruti's four-year-old son, Matan -- which means gift in Hebrew.

"It is no longer possible to say that I am not his mother," a joyful Nicole said after the ruling, adding that there are dozens of lesbian and homosexual couples in Israel in the same situation.

"Matan is the only one with the security of having two parents by law," she said.

Lawyers for the state had argued that a child cannot have two mothers, but the court ruled 2-1 in favour of the couple.

"Biologically it is impossible, but legally there is no obstacle to having two mothers," the couple's lawyer, Hadas Tagari, said.

Religious parliamentarians attacked the ruling and said they would bring in legislation to strengthen traditional family values eroded by the decision.

"The message that arises from the ruling is the destruction of the family," said Rabbi Haim Druckman, a National Religious Party member of the Knesset.

Rabbi Abraham Ravitz, a legislator from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, submitted a motion in parliament, expressing outrage over the court ruling.

"I know of a state which had laws like this," he said. "It was called Sodom. The judges are intelligent but they are cut off from their Jewish roots and from the true feelings of society."

The ruling was the second challenge to the orthodox religious establishment in less than a week. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Jewish Reform women be allowed to conduct services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem using prayer shawls and reading from a Torah scroll.

The two women were represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which successfully argued that Israel had no choice but to recognize the California adoption. The judges ruled that the laws governing adoption in Israel are analogous to those governing marriage.

Under Israeli law, only marriages conducted by a religious authority are considered legal. It is technically impossible for a Jewish Israeli to marry a non-Jew in Israel -- but if the couple is married elsewhere, and forms a union legally recognized by that country, the marriage is recognized in Israel.

Many "mixed" couples get married in nearby Cyprus, or file for long-distance marriages by mail.

Six years ago, the two women celebrated a conservative Jewish religious "marriage" ceremony in California. Eighteen months later, with help from an anonymous sperm donor, Ruti gave birth to Matan. Taking advantage of a California law that allows the partner of a single parent, regardless of sex, to adopt the other partner's children, Nicole became Matan's second mother.

But when the couple, who hold joint American and Israeli citizenship, tried to register their son at the local Israeli consulate they were told that a child could not have two parents of the same sex in Israel. The women returned to Israel three years ago determined to fight the decision.

"He knows that he has two mothers," Nicole said of their son. "He calls us Mommy and Ima. I'm Mommy, because I speak to him in English and Ruti is Ima [Hebrew for mother] because she speaks to him in Hebrew."

Ilan Shainfeld, an Israeli poet and gay activist, hailed the court's decision. "They have moved the lesbian community in Israel one step forward," he said. "It has been this way throughout our entire history. Achievements of individual men and women who create legal precedents that enable us all to live better."

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