By STEVE WEIZMAN
Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) -- In a landmark ruling, Israel's Supreme Court ordered the government Tuesday to recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad.
The lone dissenter on the seven-judge panel was an observant Jew, highlighting the controversy the decision immediately touched off among ultra-Orthodox Jews and other conservative groups in Israel.
Efforts by Israel's gay community to win approval for same-sex marriage, a key issue in the U.S. and Europe, face a major obstacle because Israel's religious authorities have a monopoly over marriage and divorce.
Yossi Ben-Ari and Laurent Schuman were married in Canada after that country legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. Determined after a 21-year partnership to enjoy all the privileges of a married couple in Israel, they were among five couples who petitioned the Supreme Court to have their marriage registered here, too.
"We're delighted, but the struggle is not over," Ben-Ari said.
Moshe Negbi, a legal expert, said the court's decision is mostly symbolic because gay couples in Israel already had many of the rights of heterosexual partnerships. The significant changes are that they will now get the same tax breaks as a married couple and be able to adopt children, Negbi said.
Israeli law stipulates a couple must be married to adopt a child.
"The marriages of same-sex couples who marry in places like Canada where the law recognizes such marriages, will also be recognized in Israel, and they will be registered as married here," Negbi said.
Civil marriages cannot be performed in Israel because of the rabbinate's monopoly on family law. But couples married in civil ceremonies abroad have all the rights of a married couple, and their marriages are registered here. The court uses the term "register" instead of "recognition" to avoid religious criticism of the ruling, Negbi said.
"The court says that now, not only heterosexuals, but homosexuals, too, can have civil marriages," Negbi added.
The word game did not pacify the ultra-Orthodox community, which was infuriated by the ruling.
"We don't have a Jewish state here. We have Sodom and Gomorrah here," said Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker.
"I assume that every sane person in the state of Israel, possibly the entire Jewish world, is shocked, because the significance is ... the destruction of the family unit in the state of Israel," Gafni told Israel's Army Radio.
Gafni said he would consider presenting a bill to parliament that would bypass Tuesday's ruling and make recognition of all same-sex marriages illegal.
Animosity toward gays and lesbians is one of the few issues that unites Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land. They have jointly come out against gay parades in the city, and are all likely to oppose the Supreme Court ruling.
Earlier this month, a planned gay parade in Jerusalem set off days of violence in the city's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Protesters burned trash bins and hurled stones at police, demanding the parade be canceled or moved to secular Tel Aviv.
In the end, Jerusalem's gay community moved the event to a stadium on a university campus in Jerusalem, quelling the threats of violence and allowing 4,000 people to celebrate peacefully.
Last year, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed and wounded three participants at Jerusalem's gay parade.
Still, many cities in Israel have thriving gay scenes. And the Israeli military, an influential and respected institution, is banned from discriminating against gays. Homosexuals are drafted into the army for mandatory service and are given the opportunity to progress up the ranks.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)