Israel’s LGBTQ community celebrates equality in surrogacy

As Tel Aviv Pride Month draws to a close with the annual Pride Parade on June 10, the LGBTQ community celebrates overcoming one of the greatest obstacles to full equality.

According to Supreme Court Judgment 781/15, the Gestational Carrier Contract Law was modified, as of January 11, 2022, lifting the prohibition of surrogacy for same-sex couples and single men.

Although Israel has been a gay-friendly developing country since 1963, until now same-sex male couples and single men who wanted a biological child had to travel abroad to find surrogates.

Israel's LGBTQ community celebrates equality in surrogacy Asaf and twins

Asaf Rosenheim and her twins at Tel Aviv Pride 2021. Photo courtesy of Asaf Rosenheim

Asaf Rosenheim lives in Israel with her 10-year-old twins, who were born in the United States to a Jewish surrogate mother from Wisconsin, using an egg from a Jewish donor.

At the time of the pregnancy and birth, Rosenheim and her then-partner were living in New York City, a relatively short plane ride from Wisconsin, where their twins were “growing in the womb of a woman who until a few weeks earlier had been a mother”. a complete stranger to us, but with whom we developed a close relationship, ”she explains.

Although a decade has passed since the birth of the twins, Rosenheim still refers to the journey of finding a surrogate mother, as well as the surrogacy itself, as “an emotional roller coaster”.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for prospective parents who live in Israel and whose surrogate mothers are so far away, plus the expense of traveling to and from North America,” he says.

Furthermore, “We had to convert them as babies so that they would be registered as Jews with the Ministry of the Interior,” explains Rosenheim. “And they are still not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate as they are being raised by two parents.”

Reacting to the recent change in the law, Rosenheim says: “Surrogacy is a complicated process for anyone, and the change will not necessarily have a positive effect on all Israeli gay men looking to build a family with the help of a surrogate.”

However, he considers that “equality has been achieved in terms of the pronouncement of this law, and that in itself is something positive.”

Rosenheim notes that “a new conversation has begun.”

“Gay men who previously had no reason to communicate with Israeli surrogates now have a lively discussion and build bridges for better understanding.”

starting the process

Daniel Jonas and Uri Erman are among the first 10 couples to assert their right to a Jewish surrogate in Israel. They are waiting for the end of June to start the process in Israel.

When Jonas and Erman met in 2010 at a Purim party hosted by the religious gay organization Havruta (of which Jonas was a founding member), it was love at first sight.

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Four years later, they were married in a civil ceremony in Denmark, where Jonas, the son of a Danish father and a Swedish mother, had spent his first two years after the army as a representative of the Jewish Agency.

Israel's LGBTQ community celebrates equality in surrogacy Uri Erman and Daniel Jonas

Uri Erman and Daniel Jonas at their wedding in Denmark in 2014. Photo by Danny Tzur

“We originally thought the wedding would be just for us,” says Jonas, but his parents and siblings came, along with Danish friends and others who flew in from New York, Berlin, Warsaw, Sweden and Israel.

“In total we were about 45 people,” says Jonas. “It all turned into a whole week of celebrations.”

Jonas notes that the Orthodox rabbi of Copenhagen’s main synagogue congratulated the couple on their wedding, as well as the rabbi of Chadad who came up to them and wished them “All the best in the world.

Five years later, Jonas and Erman began to think it was time to expand their family.

“It all started three or four years ago,” says Jonas. “We started collecting information and attending all kinds of meetings here in Israel about surrogacy abroad, since at that time there was no chance that we would have access to a surrogate here in Israel.”

They were inclined to find a surrogate mother in Canada, where the process is completely altruistic and good medical care is provided to the woman.

All medical checkups started in Israel, and then Covid broke out and Canada closed its borders.

By the time it reopened to tourism in 2021, July had brought with it the news of the reform of the surrogacy law, which would come into force six months later.

Jonas and Erman decided to put Canada on hold, “and see what happens in Israel.”

“I rarely post on Facebook,” Jonas says, “but I did write a post and put up pictures of us in an attempt to find our surrogate through Facebook.” Three women responded.

Israel's LGBTQ community celebrates equality in surrogacy Daniel and Uri 2021

Daniel Jonas and Uri Erman at Tel Aviv Pride 2021. Photo courtesy of Daniel Jonas

“We quickly realized that one of these three women was ‘the one,’” says Jonas.

They got the go-ahead from the Surrogacy Agreement Approval Board, which was expedited briefly after an application that included some medical and other paperwork, along with a psychological evaluation of the couple’s ability to “be good parents.” .

“Now our potential surrogate mother is collecting her papers to send out at the end of June. We are very hopeful that we can continue the process here in Israel.”

A considerable advantage of being able to have access to a local surrogate is that the child is recognized as Jewish at birth.

“According to most of the rabbis and poskei halacha [Jewish law decisors]”, says Jonas, “the only person who dictates if the child would be Jewish is the pregnant mother”.

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He explains that just as a child is given the status of “firstborn” if there have been no previous pregnancies in that womb, it is the womb that decides the status of the child.

‘I want equality’

Zehorit Sorek heads the Ramat Gan Municipality LGBTQ Department and lives in Tel Aviv with her husband, Limor, and their children, Tzvi-Bar and Ariel.

Israel's LGBTQ community celebrates equality in surrogacy zehorit

Photo courtesy of Zehorit Sorek

She is a former chair of the Yesh Atid party LGBTQ caucus, a former director of Hoshen, an educational program for LGBTQ acceptance, and, when not volunteering for the community, a teacher trainer for the Ministry of Education with a master’s degree in history and archaeology. .

A founding member in 2005 of the religious lesbian organization Bat Kol, Sorek is an Orthodox Jew who in 2009 opened the Pride Minyan in Tel Aviv just in time for Yom Kippur. She juggles family life with work and her many contributions to LGBTQ society, including at the Ramat Gan LGBTQ Community Center.

For Sorek, “Equality is one of the most important values ​​in my life and in Judaism.

I want equality. If surrogacy exists in Israel, then I want it to be the same for everyone.”

In response to how, as a religiously observant Jew, she views surrogacy for single men and same-sex couples, Sorek cites Genesis 30:1-2. “Our mother Raquel tells her husband Jacob: ‘Give me children, or else I’ll die.’ Even though Rachel was a woman and biological men don’t have children,” she says, “the pain of gay men who want children and can’t feels like death to them.”

available to everyone

Except for the law against discrimination in the education system, all the victories that the LGBTQ community has achieved over the years in Israel are laws that have been amended through the High Court system. This includes the victory of surrogacy.

In February 2020, a High Court ruling identified the previous wording of the surrogate motherhood law as discriminatory and illegal, and considered that the right to try to be a father or mother is a process that should be available to everyone.

Since its implementation in 1993, the surrogacy law only applied to heterosexual couples until it was modified in 2018 to include single women, without investigating their sexuality.

The High Court ruled that the Knesset would have to change the law by March 2021 and then extended it until September 2021. However, in July 2021 the government asked the court to rule on the issue, due to the inability of the current coalition government. reach a majority decision.

Thus, the High Court ruling on Israel’s surrogacy law now includes the right of same-sex male couples, as well as single men, to have children through a gestational carrier.

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Adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Health on January 11, the language of this update provides equal access to surrogacy “to anyone in Israel.”

Although a majority in the Knesset and in the country would like to convert the High Court ruling into a new law that includes the term “LGBT”, two of the parties in the current coalition government, Yamina and the United Arab List, oppose changing the wording of the original law.

In the meantime, Jonas says, “let’s wait.”

TIMELINE OF LGBTQ RIGHTS IN ISRAEL

1963: Judge Haim Herman Cohn discourages enforcement of British Mandate-era laws regarding consensual homosexual acts by denouncing the laws as “obsolete”. Cohn was the author of The Methodology of Talmudic Law (1933) and was Israel’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council (1955-1957 and 1965-1967).

1968: Tel Aviv’s first gay bar opens in a private apartment, the harbinger of other gay clubs to follow.

1975: Israel’s first organization for the protection of LGBT rights is founded.

1979: Israel’s first gay Pride The event is a protest in Rabin Square today.

1986: sex reassignment surgery is allowed and recognized.

1988: Same-sex intercourse between consenting adults is decriminalized under Amendment 22 of the Israeli Penal Code.

1992: Discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation becomes illegal.

1992: Stepchild adoption rights and limited joint guardianship for non-biological parents are introduced.

1993: Gay, lesbian and bisexual Israelis can serve openly and likewise in the IDF.

1993: First The Pride March takes place in Tel Aviv,

1994: Unregistered cohabitation it is legalized.

1998: A trans woman, known as Dana International, represents Israel in the Eurovision song contest.

2001: The first Pride Parade takes place in Eilat.

2004: Same-sex couples get the same inheritance rights as heterosexual couples.

2004: A 1999 Supreme Court ruling that foreign nationals married to Israeli citizens cannot be deported extends to common-law marriages, including same-sex couples.

2005: lesbians can officially adopt a child born to their partners by artificial insemination of an anonymous sperm donor.

2006: Lesbian couples can adopt each other’s biological children.

2006: Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad in the same way it recognizes heterosexual civil marriages, as legal units for tax, real estate, and financial purposes. civil marriages they are not performed in Israel, whether they are heterosexual or not.

2007: Jerusalem registers its first gay couple.

2007: The Jerusalem Open House organizes a Pride Parade in the center of Jerusalem.

2008: Same-sex couples can adopt jointly.

2008: Tel Aviv opens the first municipal building LGBT Community Center in the country.

2008: A gay Palestinian from Jenin whose life is in danger there because of his sexuality, he is granted residency to live with his partner of eight years in Tel Aviv.

2009: The right to adopt is recognized for same-sex male couples.

2019: Israel elects its first openly gay party leader when Nitzan Horowitz becomes leader of Meretz.

2021: Horowitz is appointed as Israel’s first openly gay Minister of Health.