Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Jewish couple's battle for civil partnership equality in the U.K.

In last week's Haaretz, I explained why my partner, Charles Keidan, and I are campaigning for equal civil partnerships‬ in the UK - and why that might seem like a diasporic luxury to those in Israel...

Below is my piece. Please do share your thoughts via Twitter @beccasteinfeld - I would love to hear them. Also, please consider sharing my piece with your professional and social networks.

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A Jewish couple's battle for civil partnership equality in the U.K. 
 
Opposite-sex couples in Britain should have the option to choose civil partnership instead of marriage, just like same-sex couples do.

 

Those of you, who, like me, love a sneaky peak at the Jewish Chronicle’s “hatches, matches and dispatches” over Friday night dinner at your parents’ might have noticed a first-of-its-kind and slightly unusual announcement in December 2013: My partner, Charles Keidan, and I announced our engagement to become civil partners. I say “unusual” because U.K. law continues to ban opposite-sex couples’ access to civil partnerships. 

Not the types to take this kind of blatant discrimination lying down, last month Charles and I launched a petition and legal challenge to the U.K. government in the High Court. Consequently, a year after our original announcement, we’ve found ourselves back in the Jewish Chronicle. I’m not sure which story brings our families less nachas...

To readers in Israel, our struggle for equal civil partnerships might seem like a diasporic luxury. After all, in Israel there is no civil marriage. Mixed faith couples are prevented from getting married, as are same-sex couples. Jews can only be legally married by an Orthodox rabbi, violating the freedom of conscience of those belonging to other Jewish denominations, like Conservative and Reform. In fact, Israel finds itself amongst the world’s more oppressive states when it comes to marriage law.

Thankfully, the situation in the U.K. is very different. Religious and civil marriage have coexisted since 1836, and in 2013, a major milestone was reached with the legalization of same-sex marriage. The social significance and symbolism of opening marriage to same-sex couples cannot be overstated. My partner and I campaigned for equal marriage, including via British Jews for Equal Marriage, a social media campaign we set up with friends.

Sadly though, even in the U.K. full relationship equality has yet to be achieved. Six aspects of discrimination remain, including legislation explicitly banning the Churches of England and Wales from performing religious same-sex marriages, and discrepancies in pension inheritance rights between same- and opposite-sex married couples. Another prominent inequality is the continued prohibition on opposite-sex couples’ access to civil partnerships.

This restriction is problematic for long-term cohabiting couples who do not wish to marry but nevertheless want legal protections, like exemption from paying inheritance tax on their deceased partner’s assets and entitlement to their deceased partner’s pension. To many, marriage is a meaningful expression of their love and relationships, and of course lots of couples have established equality within their marriages. But it is impossible to deny that marriage as a social institution, both in the past and in many places in the present, has been bound up with the mistreatment of women.

This inequality is evident within the context of the Orthodox Jewish community in which I grew up, as well as in secular civil marriage. Though rituals surrounding weddings, such as virginal white wedding dresses and segregated bachelor and bachelorette parties, can be avoided, the social and familial pressure to participate in them remains considerable. And at least in the U.K., some of the problematic aspects of marriage are unavoidable since they are grounded in law: The bride and groom must list their “condition” as either “bachelor” or “spinster,” “widow” or “widower.” There is no space on the marriage certificate for details of the mothers of the contracting parties, only for those of the fathers, meaning marriage, as an instrument of public record, serves only to trace patrilineal dynasties, effectively writing women out of history. Upon marriage, a woman may change her name with only her marriage certificate whereas a man must officially change his name via deed poll, a more complicated and costly procedure. Even if the couple regard themselves as partners, in law they become husband and wife, terms that connote gender roles and expectations, such as breadwinner and homemaker.

By contrast, civil partnerships are a modern, symmetrical social institution free of the patriarchal baggage and lingering sexist trappings of marriage. As a couple who want to be partners in law as well as in life, Charles and I thought an official civil partnership would perfectly capture and express the essence of our relationship whilst giving us almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage.

But when we sought to give “notice of intention” to form a civil partnership at our local registry office in London in October 2014, we were refused by the registrar, explicitly on the basis of our genders and sexual orientation. We are trying to change this status quo by asking the U.K.’s Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan to open civil partnerships to all, regardless of sexual orientation.

The response to our efforts has been overwhelming. In only one month, more than 1,000 people have signed our petition and contributed over $10,000 to our legal fund. Dozens have sent messages of support and offers of help, including many Jewish friends and colleagues. Media outlets, amongst them the BBC and The Guardian, have taken notice. Prominent human rights campaigners, like Peter Tatchell, have given us their backing. Even critics have ultimately concluded that it doesn’t make sense to prevent opposite-sex couples from accessing civil partnerships.

There is also political support. The Liberal Democrats, part of the current government coalition, passed a resolution in 2010 calling on the government to open civil partnerships to all. And a current cross-party Private Members Bill proposes an amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to enable opposite-sex couples to become civil partners. Sadly though, the U.K. Government Equalities Office, the very body responsible for eliminating inequality, has so far refused to acknowledge the disparity in access or take action to open civil partnerships to all.

We hope that 2015 will be the year that full relationship equality finally comes to the U.K. But, as with the struggle for same-sex marriage – and with struggles against discrimination and inequality all over the world – hope alone may not suffice. Instead, significant legal, public and political pressure will be needed to change the law. Then, perhaps Charlie and I will finally make it into the Jewish Chronicle’s “Faces and Places” section. 

Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld is a political scientist researching the politics of reproduction and the body. She tweets @beccasteinfeld

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This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Jewish couple's battle for civil partnership equality in the U.K.

In today's Haaretz, I explain why my partner, Charles Keidan, and I are campaigning for equal civil partnerships‬ in the UK - and why that might seem like a diasporic luxury to those in Israel...

Below is the opening of my piece - I will publish the remainder here on my blog in 48 hours. Please do share your thoughts via Twitter @beccasteinfeld - I would love to hear them. Also, please consider sharing my piece with your professional and social networks.

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A Jewish couple's battle for civil partnership equality in the U.K. 

Opposite-sex couples in Britain should have the option to choose civil partnership instead of marriage, just like same-sex couples do.

Jan. 20, 2015 | 7:33 AM 

Those of you, who, like me, love a sneaky peak at the Jewish Chronicle’s “hatches, matches and dispatches” over Friday night dinner at your parents’ might have noticed a first-of-its-kind and slightly unusual announcement in December 2013: My partner, Charles Keidan, and I announced our engagement to become civil partners. I say “unusual” because U.K. law continues to ban opposite-sex couples’ access to civil partnerships. 

Not the types to take this kind of blatant discrimination lying down, last month Charles and I launched a petition and legal challenge to the U.K. government in the High Court. Consequently, a year after our original announcement, we’ve found ourselves back in the Jewish Chronicle. I’m not sure which story brings our families less nachas...

To readers in Israel, our struggle for equal civil partnerships might seem like a diasporic luxury. After all, in Israel there is no civil marriage. Mixed faith couples are prevented from getting married, as are same-sex couples. Jews can only be legally married by an Orthodox rabbi, violating the freedom of conscience of those belonging to other Jewish denominations, like Conservative and Reform. In fact, Israel finds itself amongst the world’s more oppressive states when it comes to marriage law. 

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This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here

Monday, 12 January 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015: Tuesday 27 January

I am pleased to learn that the University and College Union (UCU) will be giving permission to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to add two UCU-made films - ‘The Holocaust’ (2012), to which I contributed, and ‘Journeys to Safety: Memories of the Kindertransport’ (2013) - to their list of resources. This is a great opportunity for the two films to reach a wider audience and is a great way to progress Holocaust education.    

In the film ‘The Holocaust’ (2012), I share some of my family's tragic stories with a wider public. Though it was difficult to talk about the experiences of my family and the impact of these experiences, especially on film, I think it is very important that we commemorate the Holocaust annually and try to constantly raise awareness of these critical issues. I think I have a particular responsibility in this regard as an educator. After all, if society is to change, it has to come through the education system. So I hope that this film will continue to not only commemorate and honour those killed in the Holocaust, but also stimulate thinking about genocide, ethnic cleansing and racism more broadly. 

The Holocaust: This film features UCU members who speak passionately about the impact of the Holocaust on their families and themselves. It won joint first prize for the TUC Communications Award in 2013.

Journeys to Safety: Memories of the Kindertransport: This film features three Kinder children (Lord Dubs, Ruth Barnett and John Fieldsend) who all gave their account of leaving their families via the Kindertransport. 


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In addition, the Jewish Human Rights Organisation, René Cassin, will be screening another film, Valley of Sighs, to mark Holocaust Memorial Week. My partner and I intend to attend the screening, as well as the Q&A with the film's writer and director afterwards, and to show our support for René Cassin's important work.
 

Between 1943 and 1945, the Nazis deported 25 000 Romani people to Transnistria. Half of them died of hunger, cold and other causes. This powerful documentary remembers a forgotten genocide - and provides historical context to the endemic discrimination that Gypsy, Roma and Travellers are still experiencing today. 

Professor Rainer Schulze of the University of Essex will introduce the screening. Attendees will then have the chance to discuss the film with its Romanian writer and director, Mihai Andrei Leaha. 

Event Details
Date: 31 January 2015
Time: Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start
Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
Cost: £6

Book your tickets here.
 





Friday, 2 January 2015

Campaign and legal challenge for #equalcivilpartnerships

In December 2014, my partner, Charles Keidan, and I took the next step in our legal challenge to open civil partnerships to all, regardless of sexual orientation: We issued our judicial review claim at the High Court, and then served these on the two defendants - the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and the Government.

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent, Clive Coleman, reported from outside the High Court. He said that our legal case was an outcome of the inevitable collision course between the exclusionary Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the inclusive Equality Act 2010.

During the day, we spoke to several BBC radio and TV stations, including:

1) Jane Garvey at BBC Radio 4's Woman’s Hour (from 01.10 to 10.28)

2) Mark Mardell at BBC Radio 4's The World at One (from 35.26 to 41.24)
 

3) Clive Coleman for BBC Radio 5 Live, who interviewed us outside the High Court (from 01.50.43 to 01.56.07) 

4) We were also interviewed by BBC London News, and for an article on BBC News Online

The human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who has been a consistent and principled advocate of both same-sex marriage and full civil partnership equality, and who set up the Equal Love campaign to that end, joined us outside the court. In a statement, he said: "In a democracy, we should all be equal before the law. Denying opposite-sex couples the right to have a civil partnership is just as wrong as denying same-sex couples the right to marry. We now have a situation where gay couples have two options, civil marriage or civil partnership, whereas heterosexual couples have only one option, marriage. This anomaly is unfair discrimination and could be easily remedied by opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, as has happened in many other countries.”


We have put in place an outstanding legal team to challenge both the registrars at Chelsea Register Office, who refused to register our notice of intention to form a civil partnership on the basis of our genders and sexual orientation, and the Government, which continues to discriminate against long-term cohabiting opposite-sex couples.
Our solicitor, Louise Whitfield from leading public law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, is working with a top equalities barrister, Karon Monaghan QC. Louise helped Caroline Criado-Perez successfully challenge the Bank of England to include a woman on UK bank notes. Karon wrote THE book on Equality Law, and was awarded Liberty’s Human Rights Lawyer of the Year Award in 2010.

To support our campaign, please sign our petition and consider contributing to our fundraising drive. Please also
encourage others to support our efforts by signing and donating. We anticipate additional costs in the future and are appreciative of any help you may be able to give us.


Here’s to full relationship equality in 2015!



Monday, 26 May 2014

Heterosexual Civil Partnerships on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour

Earlier today, my partner, Charlie Keidan, and I contributed to a discussion on heterosexual civil partnerships on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. In it, we explain why it's important for us to formalise our commitment to each other within a modern social institution that reflects our egalitarian values. We highlight the principle of equality that is at stake in opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, and explain that discrimination against heterosexual couples will continue in the absence of swift government action on this issue. We point out that the UK is behind the times in this regard, since other states - in particular France, the Netherlands and New Zealand - already have provisions for opposite-sex couples to form civil partnerships. We hope that the UK government will follow suit and commit itself to true civil partnership equality by immediately extending civil partnerships to all.

You can listen to our interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b044gmfd 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

On Israel’s 66th Independence Day, an urgent question for liberal Jews

Whether to go toward a Jewish or a democratic one-state is a serious challenge for liberals in and out of Israel.

By  May 7, 2014 | 2:16 AM |  18

Now is supposedly crunch time for liberal Zionists. The latest diplomatic attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to have failed, and with it the two-state solution upon which liberal Zionism depends. As a result, political scientist Dov Waxman says liberal Zionists must confront a painful question: “if a two-state solution is now impossible, should they support, however reluctantly, a one-state solution?” If so, should they prioritize their Zionism in favour of a Jewish one-state, even if this means foregoing their liberalism? Or should they prioritize their liberalism in favour of a democratic one-state, even if this means forgoing their Zionism?

Whether to go right toward a Jewish one-state or go left toward a democratic one-state is a serious challenge for liberal Jews both inside and outside Israel, who are committed to liberal values such as equality and civil rights. It is also an important question for diplomats, as reflected in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent remarks that Israel could become an apartheid state.

On Israel’s 66th Independence Day, in the 47th year since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war brought large numbers of Palestinians under Israeli control, there has never been a more urgent time to ask – and more importantly, to answer - these questions. Yet, I would argue that these questions are neither new nor confined to the area beyond the "Green Line."

Historically, alongside a push for democracy, Zionism has also been driven by two illiberal forces: ethno-nationalism and settler colonialism. Zionism is premised on the belief that Jews constitute an ancient nation that requires self-determination in its historic homeland, Eretz Israel, in order to protect itself from ubiquitous and annihilationist anti-Semitism. Since Jews were dispersed across the globe and the area identified for Zionist settlement, Palestine, was already inhabited, Zionism could only be realized through a process of mass migration, territorial acquisition, population displacement, and the assertion of political control – a process known as settler colonialism.

In fusing nationalism with settler colonialism, Zionism was not unique. The Pilgrims to New England also saw themselves as fulfilling a prophetic mission and establishing a model society; settler colonists in Australia and South Africa were also predominantly white Europeans living amid a mass of relatively impoverished natives; and settlers to both Palestine and North America first worked through, and later threw off, their British imperial backers. This is partly why the historian, Derek Penslar, argues that “the Zionist project was historically and conceptually situated between colonial, anti-colonial, and post-colonial discourse and practice.”

The critical difference is that, unlike these other examples, which have at least formally dismantled the legal and institutional systems that privileged settler status, Israel’s settler colonial history is ongoing and intensifying, both within the "Green Line" and beyond it. The contradictions of liberal Zionism are particularly severe and stark in the West Bank, where prolonged military rule since 1967 means Palestinians there live without a right to vote for the government that controls the majority of their land and most aspects of their lives. But even describing the Palestinian Arab population that now remains within Israel’s recognized borders as a “minority” reflects and legitimizes facts on the ground. The dual message is this: If settlers arrive in sufficient numbers to become the majority in a part of the territory they control, they cease being colonizers, and once indigenous people become a minority in that territory they cease being colonised.

Some might respond by pointing to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which promises to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” or by pointing out that those Palestinian Arabs who remained inside “Israel proper” after the 1948 war were granted Israeli citizenship and voting rights. There is alsoevidence that the efforts of some officials to promote equality have narrowed some material gaps between Arabs and Jews.

But these efforts, however worthwhile, gloss over a system whose structures give special privilege to Jews – not only Jewish citizens, but Jews all over the world. Jews have almost automatic and subsidized access to Israeli citizenship via the Law of Return combined with the Citizenship Law, while Palestinian Arab refugees who fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1948 have been barred from returning and are regarded as a “demographic threat.” Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has documented more than 50 Israeli laws, and numerous others pending, that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Access to land stands out. Jews are given preferential access to land (including that of barred would-be returnees) via the Absentees’ Properties Law, Jewish National Fund Law, and Israel Land Administration Law. Administrative practices in areas like education, health and housing also reveal extensive and well-documented discrimination, both overt and covert.

Both this history and practice point toward a fundamental contradiction at the heart of liberal Zionism. Liberalism stands for equality and individual rights; Zionism, by contrast, aims to maintain Jewish sovereignty in an area populated predominantly by Palestinian Arabs. It is impossible to square this circle: granting exceptional privilege to one group on the basis of their historical experiences and membership in an ethnic, national or religious group is inherently at odds with a political philosophy premised on universal equality and individual rights. It is illogical to claim that everyone is equal, yet some are more equal. A state founded by and for the Jewish people, living both within and outside of its territory, cannot also be a democratic state for all its citizens within territorial limits.

These contradictions undermine the neat spatial and temporal delineations of liberal Zionists who characterize Israel as illiberal only beyond the "Green Line" and liberal within it. As the Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel asserts, portrayals of the existence of "Israel proper" within the "Green Line" as "Jewish and democratic" are both “analytically flawed and politically deceiving.” Instead, he argues that the whole entity, territorially and politically, ought to be characterized as an ethnocracy rather than a democracy. Israel’s High Court has rejected this argument, stating in 1988 that “Israel’s definition as the state of the Jewish people does not negate its democratic character, in the same way that the Frenchness of France does not negate its democratic character.” But, as Yiftachel points out, “This statement harbors a conceptual distortion: if France is French, Israel should be Israeli (and not Jewish) … the maintenance of a non-territorial (Jewish) form of self-determination structurally breaches central tenets of democracy. It constitutes, instead, the foundation of the Jewish ethnocracy.”

Others might respond by saying that self-preservation is more valuable than democracy; that maintaining a safe-haven for the sake of Jewish survival justifies the undemocratic means required to set-up and sustain it. Fair enough. But at least be honest about that trade-off. And if you do go right, and support a Jewish over a democratic state, ask yourself the following: Will anti-Semitism in particular, or racism in general, ever be truly resolved by perpetuating ethno-national difference?

My call is to those Jews who wish to salvage their liberalism. The most prominent American liberal Zionist, Peter Beinart, rightly says, “Denying people the basic rights necessary for a decent life because they are of a certain race, ethnicity or religion is wrong. Period.” Absolutely. But that same standard applies to the whole area under Israeli control, not just a part of it. So I say to liberal Jews who are genuinely committed to equality: Stop just hugging and wrestling. Recognize that assumptions about the possibility of a Jewish democracy have rested on sloppy or wishful thinking, with devastating consequences. Confront the logical impossibility of "liberal Zionism." Demand civil rights for all. Go left.

Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of History at Stanford University, and a BBC New Generation Thinker. She researches the history and politics of reproduction in Israel. She tweets@beccasteinfeld 

This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

On Israel’s 66th Independence Day, an urgent question for liberal Jews

On Israel's 66th Independence Day, I want to share with you an article that I just published in Israel's Haaretz newspaper. In it, I point out the historical and conceptual contradictions of liberal Zionism, and encourage liberal Jews to recognise that assumptions about the possibility of a Jewish democracy have rested on sloppy or wishful thinking, with devastating consequences. I urge liberal Jews who are genuinely committed to equality to confront the logical impossibility of "liberal Zionism," demand civil rights for all, and "go left."

Below is the opening of my piece - I will publish the remainder here on my blog in 48 hours. I hope you find my argument compelling and my analysis informative. Please do share your thoughts via Twitter @beccasteinfeld - I would love to hear them. Also, please consider sharing my piece with your professional and social networks. I am hoping to further debate on these crucial issues at this critical moment. Many thanks. 

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Now is supposedly crunch time for liberal Zionists. The latest diplomatic attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to have failed, and with it the two-state solution upon which liberal Zionism depends. As a result, political scientist Dov Waxman says liberal Zionists must confront a painful question: “if a two-state solution is now impossible, should they support, however reluctantly, a one-state solution?” If so, should they prioritize their Zionism in favour of a Jewish one-state, even if this means foregoing their liberalism? Or should they prioritize their liberalism in favour of a democratic one-state, even if this means forgoing their Zionism?

Whether to go right toward a Jewish one-state or go left toward a democratic one-state is a serious challenge for liberal Jews both inside and outside Israel, who are committed to liberal values such as equality and civil rights. It is also an important question for diplomats, as reflected in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent remarks that Israel could become an apartheid state.

On Israel’s 66th Independence Day, in the 47th year since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war brought large numbers of Palestinians under Israeli control, there has never been a more urgent time to ask – and more importantly, to answer - these questions. Yet, I would argue that these questions are neither new nor confined to the area beyond the "Green Line."

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This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here.







Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Extend Civil Partnerships to Opposite-Sex Couples: My Response to the UK Government's Civil Partnership Consultation Survey

To achieve equality before the law in the UK, and enable my partner and I to enter into the civil partnership we so desire, it is necessary to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Some people have asked me to explain why. Below, I have copied some of my responses to the UK government's Civil Partnership Consultation Survey, by way of explanation. My answers may also help others fill out the survey in support of extending civil partnerships to all. The survey can be found here and needs to be completed by April 17.

Question 1:  What are your views on abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry? Please choose one answer only.    

I believe civil partnership should not be abolished because _________________ 

They are a valued and valuable social institution. There are many individuals and couples, including opposite sex couples, who would like to enter into civil partnerships. We should dismantle the discrimination and allow all couples to enter into civll partnerships, as we have done with marriage, not demolish a perfectly good social institution (built at great public expense in terms of rules, procedures and forms) in which many couples would like to live! 

Question 3: What are your views about extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples? Please choose one answer only.

I believe civil partnerships should be extended to opposite sex couples because_________________  

In a democratic society we should all be equal before the law. The ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships is unjust discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination. Legalising same-sex marriage was the recognition that LGBT people are of equal worth, equal love and have the right to equal treatment in law. The same principle of equality applies in the case of civil partnerships. Heterosexual couples should be able to have a civil partnership if they wish.


Question 4: Given the choice between forming a civil partnership or living together as an opposite sex couple, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

I would prefer to form a civil partnership because_________________ 

I would like to formalise, de jure, my relationship to someone I already consider to be my de facto partner. I want to be part of an institution that is free of patriarchal history, that formalises a relationship of equals, and that has sought to include previously marginalised and persecuted groups, not sought to exclude them. Civil partnership captures this as it allows a formal, legal tie, but without the ‘baggage’ of a centuries-old tradition – and all the gender and cultural stereotypes that marriage entails. I want a simple civil contract between myself and my partner, in which the state recognises us as partners, and gives us all the rights and responsibilities that flow from that recognition. I hope that the UK government and the general public understands why the availability of this option is important for me and my partner as well as other same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
 


Question 5: Given the choice of forming a civil partnership or marrying your opposite sex partner, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

I would prefer to form a civil partnership because_________________ 

Again, I want to be part of an institution that is free of patriarchal history, that formalises a relationship of equals, and that has sought to include previously marginalised and persecuted groups, not sought to exclude them. Civil partnership captures this as it allows a formal, legal tie, but without the ‘baggage’ of a centuries-old tradition – and all the gender and cultural stereotypes that marriage entails. 





Question 6: Are there any costs and benefits that are not included in this document linked to:

COSTS: By failing to open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, the law will remain discriminatory against opposite-sex couples. Those of us who want to enter into civil partnerships will be denied that opportunity. We would be forced to continue living together without the rights and protections that other couples, who are able to become civil partners, are entitled to. We may have to look abroad for civil partnerships or civil unions (to countries such as France, which has a Pacte Civil de Solidarité, or PACS), at great cost and inconvenience to ourselves, and with no guarantee of those unions being recognised upon our return to the UK. 

BENEFITS: The main benefit of extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples is that there would be equality before the law - at last! By opening up the institution, the UK would blaze a progressive trail, and be a shining light to other countries. Opposite-sex couples would be able to choose freely whether to cohabit, marry or enter civil partnerships, with the added protections that these state-recognised unions would provide. The status of civil partnerships for those who already have them would be elevated by virtue of the institution becoming one that couples of all genders and sexualities can enter into out of choice, and not because they have been excluded from marrying. 

Question 7: Are there any detailed implementation issues that are not included in this document linked to:

It is so simple to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples - just amend the existing law so that couples entering into the contract can be of the opposite sex. Done!

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If you would like to know more about the differences between marriage and civil partnership, please see this UK government document for explanation. There are several differences in the ceremonies and contracts themselves between civil marriages and civil partnerships, but not in terms of substantive rights, which is why it's preferable from my point of view. Things that stand out for me - because they reveal the lingering patriarchal undertones of the institution of marriage - are: Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties; Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties. Grounds for divorce in marriage: Adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent. The definition of adultery is sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage. In civil partnership: This is not a fact which could be relied on for ending a civil partnership. The beauty of a civil partnership is one gets the same rights and protections of marriage (boring but probably important stuff like pension rights!) without this baggage - WIN!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Abortions in Israel: Time to finally abort pregnancy-termination committees?

Last week, I published the second in my two-part miniseries for Israel's Haaretz newspaper on the politics of abortion in Israel. Below is the full article. 

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Abortions in Israel: Time to finally abort pregnancy-termination committees?

How Israel’s abortion law compares to other countries, and why the current political environment may be ripe for reform. Part two of a two-part series.

By  | Feb. 20, 2014 | 3:13 PM


As my previous blog on abortions in Israel showed, Israel's abortion law is not as liberal as some wishfully think. But the questions remain: how does Israel compare to other countries, and has the time come to change the status quo? As for whether Israel is more or less liberal, the answer, in short, is that Israel lies somewhere in the middle.


It is nowhere near as restrictive as the seven countries that ban abortion altogether, even when the life of the woman is at risk. Nor is it as restrictive as countries like Ireland that only allow abortion to save the woman’s life. Mara Klein Clarke, who directs the U.K.-based Abortion Support Network, told me Ireland is “pretty horrific, both North and South … women are seldom allowed to obtain abortions.” As a result, she says, “We’ve heard from women who have thrown themselves down flights of stairs, drunk bleach, chased packages of birth control pills down with bottles of vodka and gin. And this is in 2013/2014 in the supposedly developed world.”


Evidently the abortion situation in Israel could be much worse.

But, equally, it could be much better. In the United Kingdom (aside from Northern Ireland) abortion is free on the National Health Service and legal up to 24 weeks. Although there is a postcode lottery of provision and a paternalistic mandate that two doctors need to sign off on the abortion, this is largely a formality and certainly a far cry from Israel’s Orwellian three-person pregnancy-termination committee. Meanwhile, Canada has done away with restricting abortions altogether, and simply considers abortion a “medically necessary” service.


So Israel’s abortion provision sits between these two poles. “On the one hand, women really can’t make the choice for themselves here. They need to get approval from a committee. On the other hand, Israel is not one of those countries where there’s a complete ban on abortion,” explains Rivka Neumann of the Women's International Zionist Organization. Political scientist Yael Yishai categorizes Israel as an “intrusive” state that “limits individual discretion but is committed to implementing authorized (that is, legal), abortions.”

The question, then, is what accounts for Israel’s intrusion into women’s wombs?

My research (summarized here) suggests that Israel’s approach to abortion is the outcome of a complex interplay between various factors and actors. On the one hand there are those who have opposed abortion for either religio-moral or demographic reasons, while on the other hand have been those concerned about the implications for women’s health and welfare of restrictions on access to abortion, as well as feminists resisting attempts to render women’s wombs national vessels.

Historically, those opposed to abortion on demographic grounds feared that freer access would decrease the Jewish birth rate and in turn Israel’s Jewish majority. David Ben-Gurion was especially anxious about low Jewish fertility, and wrote in Haaretz in 1967, “The increase of the Jewish birthrate is not an imperialistic need, but rather an essential component of the survival of the [Jewish] people … Any woman who does not have four children as much as it depends on her is betraying the Jewish mission.” Linking abortion to the “demographic danger” became most vivid and vocal during the 1975 Knesset debate on abortion law reform. Feminist former MK Marcia Freedman recalls in her memoir that MKs opposing abortion shouted statements like, “tens of millions of Arabs, who are fruitful and multiply, surround our borders” and “Has Arafat given his consent to this law?”

Yet pro-natalist opposition to abortion has been resisted by those concerned with the negative repercussions for women of restrictions on access to abortion. Former MK Haviv Shimony, who submitted the successful abortion law reform bill in 1975, explained at the time that whilst the future of Israel depended on both immigration and natural increase, “these foundations are completed by the concern for the physical and emotional health of our people gathering in the country … Imposing the burden of a multitude of children on weak social groups from the financial, educational and mental points of view will only destroy the families and the society.” Others, like Freedman, went further, stressing the inalienable right of women to control their own bodies.

The outcome of these historic struggles – which I call a “war of the wombs” – is that abortion in Israel became widely available, yet legally restricted.

Has the time come to change the status quo? In order to answer that, we must first understand whether the power of the religious and nationalist forces opposed to liberalizing abortion has weakened enough to enable such a change.

Opinion on this is divided.

Some fear that religious and nationalist forces remain powerful within Israel, and worry that opening a new chapter in this war of the wombs could generate a counterproductive conservative backlash. The recent health-basket reform resulted in a funding victory, but before hastily moving onto the next stage of liberalizing abortion in Israel, they urge patience and caution. “We need to let things permeate,” Orly Hasson-Tsitsuashvilli, the Executive Director of Ladaat, a family planning education and counseling center in Jerusalem, told me. She says the health-basket reform “raised a storm and raised opposite opinions to the surface.” As such, she says ”We need a bit of time before we take the next big step.”

Others are more optimistic. Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On has submitted a bill to the Knesset calling for the abolition of the termination committees. “The law should be changed and the committees should be stopped so that each woman can decide for herself if she would like to have an abortion or not … The bill that I have submitted will most definitely give the women control back over their lives and reproduction systems,” she told me. A recent editorial in Haaretz echoed Gal-On’s demands, stressing that “Lawmakers must act to change the abortion committees’ criteria and to ensure that Israeli policy matches that of most Western nations. Every woman must be given the freedom to choose.”

There are some indications that proposing such reforms could be successful. The health-basket committee unanimously supported expanding the funding of legal abortions, the Cabinet quickly approved their recommendation, and there are no ultra-Orthodox political parties in the current coalition to obstruct abortion reform. It is also doubtful that demographic fears linking access to abortion to the security of the Jewish majority are anywhere near as potent as in the past. Most encouragingly, during last week’s hearing on abolishing the termination committees, organized by the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, consensus was reached that “until the 12th week, we don't need the committee,” according to Hasson-Tsistuashvilli, who attended the hearing. Even Dr Eli Schussheim, the Director of the anti-abortion organization Efrat, agrees, and has now argued in favor of abolishing the committees. Consequently, Gal-On told me that she is “very hopeful that we will be able to pass it (her bill) within the next parliamentary session.”

So perhaps this is an opportune moment to push for abortion law reform. After all, isn’t it high time to let women in Israel finally decide for themselves what to do with their own bodies?

In her last blog post, Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld explained that Israel’s recent health-basket reform may make abortions more affordable, but hardly more accessible. Steinfeld is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of History at Stanford University, and a BBC New Generation Thinker. She researches the history and politics of reproduction in Israel. She tweets @beccasteinfeld

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This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Abortions in Israel: Time to finally abort pregnancy-termination committees?

Today, I published the second in my two-part miniseries for Israel's Haaretz newspaper on the politics of abortion in Israel. Below are the first 150 words, and in 48 hours I'll re-post the whole article. 

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Abortions in Israel: Time to finally abort pregnancy-termination committees?

How Israel’s abortion law compares to other countries, and why the current political environment may be ripe for reform. Part two of a two-part series.

By  | Feb. 20, 2014 | 3:13 PM

As my previous blog on abortions in Israel showed, Israel's abortion law is not as liberal as some wishfully think. But the questions remain: how does Israel compare to other countries, and has the time come to change the status quo? As for whether Israel is more or less liberal, the answer, in short, is that Israel lies somewhere in the middle.

It is nowhere near as restrictive as the seven countries that ban abortion altogether, even when the life of the woman is at risk. Nor is it as restrictive as counties like Ireland that only allow abortion to save the woman’s life. Mara Klein Clarke, who directs the U.K.-based Abortion Support Network, told me Ireland is “pretty horrific, both North and South … women are seldom allowed to obtain abortions.” As a result, she says, “We’ve heard from women who have thrown themselves down flights of stairs, drunk bleach, chased packages of birth control pills down with bottles of vodka and gin. And this is in 2013/2014 in the supposedly developed world.”

Evidently the abortion situation in Israel could be much worse.

But, equally, it could be much better. 
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This article was originally published by Haaretz. For the full article, click here.