Are we there yet?

Not since the outing of Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore by author J.K. Rowling has the international Gay community been a buzz as in the past few weeks following two major milestones in the struggle for Gay rights. The first was the legalization of same sex marriage by France and New Zealand increasing the number of countries that recognize same sex marriage to fourteen. While French President Francois Hollande campaigned on this issue last year, many were still surprised that the birth place of romance and the Femme fatale now officially accepts a queer kind of amour fou.

The second milestone was a statement made by NBA player Jason Collins who told Sports Illustrated magazine “I’m a 34 year old NBA center. I’m Black. And I’m Gay” making him the first active male professional athlete in a major sports team to come out of the proverbial closet.

Collins’ announcement is of great importance as it might signify a shift in the attitude towards homosexuality in America. While homosexuality has become a recurring theme in American popular culture, spanning from new interpretations to the “adventures” of Batman and Robin to the inclusion of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) characters in prime time television, it has yet to penetrate all American pass times such as Monday night football. Even more surprising than Collins’ statement was the warm embrace he received from fellow athletes such as NBA mega-star Kobe Bryant who tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others”.

While both these events were featured in the Israeli press, with Israel’s most popular daily newspaper Yediot Aharonotrunning the tasteless headline “N-B-Gay”,  most journalists avoided asking the most basic question.  To paraphrase Shrek’s beloved Donkey- when it comes to same sex marriage in Israel, are we there yet?

The “official” State of Israel is somewhat ambivalent towards equality of right for LGBTs. In an attempt to tap into the global LGBT tourism industry, estimated in 2013 at 181 Billion US Dollars, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism has branded Tel Aviv as one of the hottest gay destinations in the world. Israel also currently has several homosexual Ambassadors representing its interest abroad with the Ambassador’s life partners receiving the same privileges as their heterosexual colleagues. In addition, the current Minister of Finance, Yair Lapid, has long since been an advocate of gay rights and has even presided over civilian weddings marrying same sex couples by the power invested in him by Channel 2 news.  On June of 2012, even the IDF, Israel’s last gentleman’s club whose anthem is “macho macho man”, posted an image of two male soldiers walking hand in hand on its Facebook page.

Lastly, if prime time television does indeed mirror society, then surely there is some importance to the fact that the co-anchor of Israel’s most watched television shows, the reality program Big Brother, is the openly gay Assi Azar.

But there are still several hurdles on the road to legalizing same sex marriage in Israel. One such hurdle is the lack of separation between church and state in Israel best exemplified by the fact that marriages have to be authorized by the Ultra-Orthodox rabbinate that strongly opposes homosexuality. Likewise, Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox political parties, who often serve political tie breakers between the country’s left and right, still view LGBTs as sick people or sexual deviants. And despite the fact that most Israeli LGBTs lead an openly gay life and enjoy a vibrant gay cultural life, there is currently only one openly gay Member of Knesset, Nitzan Horowitz from the Meretz party.

The previous Netanyahu government, which included both Ultra-Orthodox parties, actively blocked important pro gay legislature including a law that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual preference and an amendment that would recognize same sex marriage. It is hard to imagine that the current Netanyahu government will act any differently given the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu still hopes to widen his government so that it includes the Ultra Orthodox parties. In addition, his current coalition is based on a partnership with the Religious Zionist Jewish Home party whose leaders have embraced anti gay rhetoric calling on the IDF not to enlist LGBTs to its ranks to say nothing of Moshe Faiglin, a member of the ruling Likud party who refers to himself as a proud homophobe.

The road to same sex marriage in Israel, and equality of rights for LGBTs, is still a long and winding one. But perhaps like Bogey and Ingrid Bergman, we LGBTs can breathe a bit easier knowing that we’ll always have Paris.

About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.